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What Works: The House That Ryan Built

Having grown up in a family that had sponsored and worked on several Habitat for Humanity houses and seen their new homeowners presented with keys, Ryan Coretz, 13, of Temple Israel in Tulsa, Oklahoma asked the guests at his bar mitzvah to make a contribution to Habitat for Humanity for "Ryan's House," his bar mitzvah project. Ryan's family and friends donated $8,911-which he thought was enough to construct a home, until the local Habitat Executive Director Paul Kent gently informed him of the real cost: $60,000. He suggested that Ryan team up with businesses to sponsor a house, but Ryan wanted to build "Ryan's House" and "go it alone." With a book listing charitable foundations and their average donations in hand, he researched and then contacted like-minded foundations, explaining his bar mitzvah project. After asking 20 foundations for a specific amount to help realize "his" house, he raised the additional $51,089.

As a minor, Ryan had to apply for and receive special permission to work (sans power tools and ladder climbing) on the construction of "Ryan's House." For 10 weeks, he joined the building crew. Then, at the house dedication-supported by his family, several friends, and his rabbi, Charles Sherman-Ryan presented the keys to the new owner. "It was an exciting, fun day," Ryan says, "and the completion of an important project-a mitzvah."

Ryan plans to raise another $60,000 to build a Habitat home in spring 2012.