CADILLAC — Home ownership is one of the hallmarks of the American dream and something that many people work their entire lives toward.

Recently, two families achieved their American dreams, and in a symbolic and cathartic gesture, burned their mortgages.

The mortgage-burning ceremony was hosted by Wexford-Osceola Habitat for Humanity, which is the organization that made it possible for the Baize and Keller families to have complete ownership of their homes.

Habitat for Humanity helps families obtain quality homes by entering into an arrangement with them whereby they don’t have to pay interest on the mortgage payments. In exchange, families have to put it a certain number of “sweat equity” hours around the home. Sometimes the homes are built brand new and other times they are purchased and renovated before the family moves in.

Wexford-Osceola Habitat for Humanity executive director Amy Gibbs said all of their partner families have either paid off their mortgages or are in the process of paying off their mortgages. In the case of a family moving away, Habitat has first dibs on buying back the home to be used for another partner family.

Amanda Keller applied to be in the Habitat for Humanity program in 2001 after hearing about it from her boss. At the time, Keller said she was in a bad situation, as the home she was renting was old and very run-down, with sewer water backed up into the basement.

Keller moved into her new home in 2002 and over the course of the next couple of decades, she raised her children there.

Recently, Keller changed her career path and at the same time, she decided to take the money she had been saving up in her previous career and use it to pay off the mortgage, which she did last March.

“It’s like a weight is lifted off your shoulders,” said Keller, who has been able to use the money that would have gone to the mortgage to pay for home renovations. She said she also bought a car and plans to spoil her grandchild for Christmas this year.

“It’s a great thing,” Keller said about Habitat for Humanity. “I’ve recommended it to a couple of my friends ... the reward you get putting all that work into something that is yours. All around, it’s a good thing.”

Like Keller, Billy Baize said he and his wife, Sheila, were in a bad situation when they were accepted into the Habitat program a handful of years ago.

The house they were renting was in the process of being sold by the homeowner, who told them in so many words that they had to leave.

In 2017, Billy and Sheila were accepted into the program, and since that time, they’ve put a lot of work into making the house a home, including adding a new well, hot water tank and plumbing, along with countless other improvements.

“It was a godsend,” said Billy, who added that before being accepted into the program, they were considering moving downstate because they didn’t have anywhere else to go.

Working as much overtime as he could, Billy said they were able to make double payments on the house and recently, they completely paid it off.

“It’s such a relief,” Billy said. “I can’t say how thankful I am to Habitat. They all were such awesome people to work with.”

With the extra cash they now have, Billy said they’ve been doing a few luxury improvements to the home, including adding an outdoor kitchen area and a hot tub. | 775-NEWS (6397)