Park City couple is thankful to Habitat for Humanity
November 26, 2013
Mercedes Betembs and Rodrigo Carrasco know they have a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.
The couple, who work at Deer Valley were married in 2010 after dating for nearly six years, were the recipients of green cards through the U.S. government’s Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, known as the Green Card Lottery, which is a mandated program for non-citizens to receive a United States Permanent Resident Card.
A year ago, they welcomed their first child, Bastian, into the world.
This year, they will become new homeowners, said Lisa Schneider, executive director for Habitat for Humanity: Summit and Wasatch Counties.
The family will move into the house, located at 154 Marsac Ave., after its dedication on Dec. 11.
"We broke ground in August of 2012 and here we are wrapping up the home just in time for Christmas," Schneider said during an interview with The Park Record. "We had our last big volunteer team day at the house last Friday and the home will be finished in the next two weeks."
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The three-bedroom home measures 1,200 square feet and has 1 ½ bathrooms.
"It is the most beautiful home in Park City," Carrasco said.
Betembs and Carrasco’s road to home ownership began nearly 11 seasons ago.
Betembs came to Park City from Argentina on a working visa and worked at Deer Valley.
Carrasco, a native of Chile, had been also working at Deer Valley and the two began dating the season after they first met.
"I worked at a ski resort in Chile and a recruiter from Deer Valley visited and he turned out to be the guy who taught me how to ski when I was eight years old," Carrasco said. "He said, ‘I know you’ and asked if I spoke English and offered me a job at Deer Valley."
After the winter seasons, Betembs returned to Argentina while Carrasco remained in the United States and worked at a summer resort in Washington State.
In 2010, the government discontinued the working visas the couple had and they returned to their respective countries.
"We didn’t think we would ever see each other again," Betembs said.
But she was wrong. One month later, Carrasco was informed that he won the Green Card Lottery.
"I called Mercedes and said we’re getting married," Carrasco said. "I didn’t get on my knee. I just called her."
After they were married in Argentina, the couple did their Green Card interview and returned to Park City a few weeks later.
The couple discovered Habitat for Humanity in 2011 after they decided to live in Park City full time.
"They started thinking about affordable housing," Schneider said. "Rodrigo went to the local banks and began researching lenders."
That’s when he discovered two important things that would make buying a house difficult.
"First, because of the seasonal nature of their work, it would be difficult to get a mortgage loan," Schneider said. "Secondly, they didn’t have a credit history."
Still, Carrasco felt he could find a solution for people in their situations.
"They work and have a good income and are willing to purchase a home and put in some sweat equity — work hard to make it happen," Schneider said.
Carrasco, who is a ski instructor at Deer Valley, attended a workshop held by Rhoda Stauffer, Park City’s housing specialist.
"At the same time Habitat for Humanity was preparing to host its open house application meetings," Schneider said. "We hold several of these types of meetings throughout of the year, and during these meetings, people will find out if they are qualified to apply for one of our homes."
Stauffer referred Carrasco and Betembs to Schneider.
"The two attended one of our meetings and found their income fit our income range and realized they had the skills to fulfill the sweat equity requirements to build the house and they had need," Schneider said. "They also struggled for many years with affordability."
The couple applied and Habitat’s Family Services Committee reviewed the application and recommended to our its board of directors, who approved it.
"Then we got busy," Schneider said. "Mercedes and Rodrigo have put in close to 250 hours each in sweat equity and have showed me time and again about their persistence."
The news came as a shock to Betembs, who is a banquet supervisor at Deer Valley.
"We went into a meeting, and thought more couples would be coming because we thought they were going to give everyone who applied more information about the house," she said. "But that didn’t happen."
Instead, Robin Nygaard, the local pastor of the Unity of Fellowship who is a Habitat for Humanity volunteer and sits on its family services committee, came in and told the couple they were getting the house.
"We started crying," Betembs said. "We couldn’t even talk. We were super happy."
As time went on, the couple realized they were going to own a home for the first time and will really be part of the community.
"Since the first time I came into this city, I fell in love with it," Betembs said. "The people who live here is totally different than the rest of the country. I feel like I’m in a safe place and can raise a family here."
"When I started working here, I was surprised at how everyone walking on the street say hello to you," he said. "That surprised me, but it happens all the time in Park City.
"When we became a couple, we would say to each other how cool it would be to live here, and now we do," Carrasco said.
In addition, the new home is a green home, Schneider said.
"We are shooting for an Energy Star certification and a LEED certification," she explained.
LEED is an acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a grading system designed by the U.S. Green Building Council.
"We are grateful to Rocky Mountain Power who is one of our key sponsors of this project," Schneider said. "They encourage us to make the house more energy efficient. At the end of the day, the operating cost will be 50 percent less than a similar home built conventionally, which is good, because Mercedes and Rodrigo now have a college fund to start."
Betembs and Carrasco’s situation isn’t different than the hundreds of people who come to Park City from around the world to work every winter, Schneider said.
"They struggle to find some kind of decent shelter to live in throughout the winter and if they may find some, it’s very expensive or distant from work," she said. "Making the dollars stretch to pay rent and buy groceries may be a stretch and a big challenge. And these two have done it for eight years."
So to help, Habitat for Humanity will accept donations when the new Marsac house is dedicated on Dec. 11.
"This is a great time for the community to open their doors and rent out a room affordably to our seasonal workers or donate to the food pantry," Schneider said. "During their home dedication, we will ask people to donate food and priority items to the Christian Center."
For more information, visit http://www.habitat-utah.org.