Dorjee Wangdak may be thousands of miles from his native Tibet, but as an environmental services associate at Yale-New Haven Hospital, he's just a few hundred yards from his new home on Sylvan Avenue. What makes it an even sweeter home — besides sharing it with his wife, Tsering Choedak, and their daughter Tenzin — is that Dorjee helped build it.
The attractive two-story, three-bedroom home on Sylvan Avenue, surrounded by a white picket fence and well-kept flower and vegetable gardens, is one of three houses in New Haven's Hill neighborhood that YNHH has sponsored and helped build through Habitat for Humanity of Greater New Haven over the past three years. The Habitat partnership is part of the hospital's larger commitment to help revitalize its surrounding neighborhood.
In addition to purchasing a house with a no-interest mortgage through Habitat, Dorjee was also able to take advantage of the Hospital's H.O.M.E – Home Ownership Made Easier – Program. H.O.M.E. provides up to $10,000 in forgivable five-year loans, a monthly mortgage subsidy for the first two years and home-buying education and support to employees who are first-time homeowners and buy a house in New Haven. To date, 88 YNHH employees have purchased homes through the H.O.M.E. program.
Dorjee is not only a proud Habitat owner but also was a volunteer construction worker – a Habitat requirement. "I put in 400 hours, and my wife's family helped, too," he said. "I did some painting, some carpentry — whatever the construction manager asked me to do." In addition to YNHH's financial sponsorship of the Habitat homes, nearly a hundred of the hospital's employees and their families volunteered to work on the houses alongside the future homeowners and Habitat for Humanity staffers.
Dorjee emigrated to the U.S. in 2005 and until now lived with Tsering's family — also Tibetan immigrants — in Hamden. He's been with YNHH environmental services for the past three years, currently assigned to the night shift at Smilow Cancer Hospital. "I clean the operating rooms, the chemotherapy areas and the exam rooms," he said.
After six months of construction, the house was dedicated and Dorjee and his family moved there in March 2011. His short commute home every day is part of the appreciation he has for YNHH and Habitat. "Honestly, being a homeowner is more responsibility than I thought, but the good thing is that I have my own house, which my wife and daughter love, too."
YNHH has committed to sponsoring two more Habitat houses in the coming year, and its efforts have not gone unnoticed. The hospital and Yale School of Medicine received two community service awards at the 2009 Habitat for Humanity of Greater New Haven Master Builder Award ceremony.
Across the street from Dorjee's home is another example of YNHH's ongoing revitalization efforts in the Hill neighborhood. The hospital partnered with a number of organizations to develop Rowe Residences, a 104-unit, mixed-income housing complex, which opened in 2010. That unique project, as well as the Habitat program, reinforce the assertion that there is a direct correlation between good health and adequate living conditions. YNHH, committed to that belief, will continue to ensure that families in New Haven's Hill neighborhood have greater access to safe, livable and healthy homes.