ASHTON, Idaho (AP) — ASHTON — An Ashton potato farmer's financial generosity will be used to improve housing in upper valley — and much more.

When he died in 2010, Kurt Kandler left 20 percent of his trust fund to Habitat for Humanity, an amount estimated at more than $1 million.

Now the Idaho Falls Habitat for Humanity affiliate has begun the process of deciding how to make the most of this unexpected and generous gift.

The nonprofit, Christian-based organization's executive director, Karen Lansing, said the group hopes to make the gift as meaningful as the spirit in which it was given.

The money came with strings attached. It must be used for the benefit of people in need of better housing in Ashton first, then in St. Anthony, Madison, Jefferson and Teton counties.

Getting the gift meant the Idaho Falls affiliate had to change its bylaws to allow it to expand its work into those areas.

While the group could have opted to take applications and build 10 houses in the area and then leave, the gift has the potential for making a bigger difference in those communities with the affiliate making a commitment to try to grow the funding by launching a community improvement initiative.

That's why Lansing has been announcing the gift and meeting with city officials. She has met with the Ashton City Council and last week met with St. Anthony officials.

The organization has secured an AmeriCorp Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA) who will help develop the program by first surveying the communities to come up with a baseline of need and available resources.

Lansing said the organization will be leveraging the gift with U.S. Department of Agriculture low-interest Rural Development funding.

The working name for the effort is the Upper Valley Initiative. The effort ideally would engage communities that want to be engaged and are willing to provide volunteers and financial support.

"We have lots of groundwork to do," Lansing said. But the benefits of affordable housing goes beyond the walls and roofs over families' heads.

"We need to raise the awareness of the kind of impact housing has if you give a family support and help them be successful homeowners," she said. "It gives them energy to do other things besides worrying about housing."

In essence, by giving folks a chance for better housing, "you move from just home building to people helping."

To do that takes support from the community. "It's sexy to go to Africa to help build homes," she said. "It's not so sexy to look at our own communities and help.

"Look at how many are living in crowded old trailers, some with blankets as doors and Styrofoam stuck up in the winter for insulation," she said. "We want our impact (particularly from Kandler's gift) to be ongoing and sustainable."

The group has a fundraiser planned starting at 9 a.m. Oct. 1 at the ReStore, the Habitat's home improvement store at 238 Northgate Mile in Idaho Falls.

Called Hostages for Habitat, the event seeks people from the community to volunteer to agree to be held "hostage" on the ReStore roof until the pledged amount of donations can be collected. Ashton Mayor Teddy Stronks and others already have agreed to get on the roof until pledges are fulfilled.

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Information from: Standard Journal, http://www.rexburgstandardjournal.com/

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