Seneca Nation program helps with Habitat house


OBSERVER Assistant News Editor

SILVER CREEK – Sometimes things just come together and everyone benefits. This was what happened when the Seneca Nation of Indian’s Employment and Training Department joined the North County Satellite of Chautauqua Area Habitat for Humanity to construct the fourth Habitat house in Silver Creek.

Employment and Training Department Director Deborah Cooper said the basic construction program has worked with Habitat for Humanity in Buffalo in the past but transportation was an issue this year. Construction Instructor Tom Murphy saw in the paper that Habitat was looking for help on a house in Silver Creek and things started falling into place from there.

“It was great because it was so close – just five minutes away, so students are able to drive to the site,” Cooper said.

As part of the basic construction program, students learn basic skills and earn certifications in the class room and then go out into the community to learn hands on.

“Usually the program is six weeks. This year we extended it the 12 weeks,” Cooper explained. “We help the unemployed and underemployed with anything they need to gain employment – from training to childcare, help with interviewing and computer access.”

One of the unique features of the Habitat house being constructed on Knight Street, is that it is a green build. Murphy said this different kind of construction reinforces sound building practices like using materials to the maximum capacity and sealing the house for energy efficiency.

In addition to program students and volunteers working together to build the green home, the Silver Creek School District also lent a helping hand. During rainy weather, the district made a bus bay available for the program students and volunteers to construct the walls before they were erected on-site.

“It was a great collaboration between the community, the program and the school. I think that was very unique,” Murphy said.

Marilyn Kurzawa of Habitat said the collaboration has helped habitat get ahead of schedule on the Knight Street house.

“This is the first time we are working together. They have definitely helped speed up construction. We began with the students framing the walls in the Silver Creek School bus garage because it was that time in the summer where it did nothing but rain. They had the opportunity to learn firsthand and were able to raise the walls once the foundation was ready. It has been a great opportunity all around.

“It normally takes 14 to 15 weeks for construction because our volunteers only work on Saturdays. But because of this kick start from the Senecas, it may take only 12 months. But it is a guessing game, you never know what will hold you up.”

Cooper said in addition to helping the community, the students gain a sense of achievement.

“Students come into the program thinking they can’t do anything and they leave with a sense of accomplishment and a drive to achieve,” she added.

Recently, Habitat volunteers and program students worked side-by-side to complete the trusses which will hold the roof for the new home.

Habitat Project Director David Kurzawa thanked all the volunteers for their hard work.

“Thanks to all the volunteers for a monstrous success in placing the trusses. Every pair of hands made a difference in getting the job done. Thank You to all who helped make this all happen. Our partners, the Seneca Nation job employment training program people, were a great help to us all. We appreciate each and every helper,” he said.

The 29 Knight St. house is the fourth Habitat house in Silver Creek and the 26th in Chautauqua County. Holly Salisbury is the family partner for this project. Habitat for Humanity believes that decent, affordable housing dramatically changes a family’s life by breaking the cycle of poverty; improving health, physical safety and security; providing a sense of stability and dignity; and freeing up money for other essential needs.

The Seneca Nation of Indian’s Employment Program is an award winning program which has been used as a model for other tribes across the country. The program’s mission is to assist Seneca youth and adults succeed in the workforce, encourage self sufficiency, familiarize students with the world of work, facilitate the creation of job opportunities and any services related to these activities.

Comments on this story may be sent to