Starfish Project: Changing Lives Through Housing – The Mercury News

Minnesota Town Builds Affordable Housing for Family

A New Opportunity for Deserving Family

Northfield, a small Minnesota town, has provided a ray of hope in these troubled times through the construction of an affordable home for the Hernandez family. Despite living in the U.S. for over two decades, Victor and Lorena Hernandez, who emigrated from Mexico, were still dreaming of owning their own home. The couple was working hard at their jobs, paying taxes, and supporting their immediate and extended families. Their American dream was not within reach until they met Bob Thacker and Karen Cherewatuk, a couple who had been advocating for affordable housing in their community for a long time. The two saw in the Hernandez family the opportunity to help one deserving family’s American dream come true.

A Purposeful Endeavor

Bob and Karen initially searched for a low-cost house to renovate but could not find one. They eventually stumbled upon an abandoned farmhouse that was in dire need of repair. The couple reached out to the elderly woman who owned the house, and after explaining what they intended to do, the woman gladly agreed to sell it to them at a throwaway price of $80,000. The couple then partnered with the Hernandezes, and together they got to work, taking eight months to renovate the 1890s classic farmhouse, which now features three bedrooms.

A Community That Believes in Giving Back

The Hernandezes, along with their children, were the hardest workers, but the entire community joined hands to pitch in, either with donations or free labor. Over 150 people attended the fiesta Bob and Karen hosted to celebrate the completion of the renovation. This event included local priests who blessed the house and its rooms. The Hernandez matriarch, Lorena, has referred to the process as a mere miracle.

Continuing the Good Work

The Hernandezes are paying Bob and Karen monthly installments that are going directly against the principal. Once interest rates come down, they plan to seek financing from a bank loan, which will allow them to pay off the note. After the loan has been repaid, Bob and Karen intend to continue using the same strategy, hoping to inspire others in their community to do the same. To be noted is the fact that the Starfish House model, which Bob and Karen referred to their construction project, renovates existing houses, as opposed to the new construction of Habitat for Humanity.

The Formula for Success

Bob and Karen’s efforts have been successful, and anyone looking to make a positive impact on their community by building affordable housing can follow in their footsteps. Here are some takeaways:

Seek guidance from experts in the field, such as a Habitat for Humanity representative.
Search for finds and deals in builder outlets, Facebook Marketplace, and Habitat for Humanity ReStores, where donated home improvement materials and furnishings are sold.
Solicit donations by asking around and being upfront about the project and its goals.

Bob says the project’s success can be attributed to the inherent goodwill of people. The minute they sought support, people came forward to help.


The Hernandez family has realized their American dream, thanks to Bob and Karen’s initiative and the community’s support. Their farmhouse provides a glimmer of hope for those looking for affordable housing. Bob and Karen’s efforts reiterate that together, we can make a positive difference in our communities by relying on goodwill and the generosity of others.

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