In the Twin Cities, remembering what’s important -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

In the Twin Cities, remembering what’s important


Debbie Erickson works on a new house being built in St. Paul, Minnesota, on Day Two of the 2010 Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project. Erickson is the only woman in a 15-person crew working on the house. ©Habitat for Humanity/George Hipple


Alissa Olson (left) and Valspar volunteer Ruth Hentges work together to paint the home owned by Alissa's mother, Vicky Olson, as part of Habitat’s A Brush with Kindness program in St. Paul, Minnesota. ©Habitat for Humanity/George Hipple


Jake Quarstad is one of many volunteers who make deliveries of water, ice, cookies and tools to volunteers at the Minneapolis, Minnesota, build site using their bikes. ©Habitat for Humanity/George Hipple


By Lurma Rackley

Debbie Erickson paused in the driveway, watching new construction continue on a house being completed with the Tadessa family in St. Paul. As the only woman on the 15-person crew of volunteers from churches, “my job is bossing people around,” she said playfully. In truth, Erickson is a seasoned Habitat volunteer who minutes before had been up on the second story, nailing weather wrap

An orthodontic assistant, Erickson developed a “passion for volunteering” more than a decade ago through her church, Hosanna, in nearby Lakeville. She and her husband, who died six months ago, believed they should live their lives as “the hands and feet of Christ,” she said.

“My husband and I volunteered with Habitat and other organizations, and we traveled to Jamaica in 1999 and 2000 as part of a mission to build an orphanage,” she said. “He and I also took a road trip with a group to help after Hurricane Katrina. I was the only woman on that crew for a full week. But it didn’t matter then, either.”

What matters, she said, is helping people have decent, affordable places to live. With that, she headed back to join the guys working hard to finish their project by week’s end.

Strong, together

“Faith keeps us strong” and helps us focus not with words but with actions, the Rev. David A. Van Dyke told a tent full of volunteers gathered for lunch on the second day of the Carter build in St. Paul’s Payne-Phalen neighborhood.

Van Dyke, pastor and head of staff at the House of Hope Presbyterian Church in St. Paul, added that Habitat offers the opportunity for volunteers to “live out our faith in ways that inspire hope.”

Dr. Hamdy El-Sawaf, an Imam representing the Muslim faith, and Susan Flynn, a member of Temple Aaron, representing Jewish communities, also spoke.

Dr. Hamdy said his faith teaches that “the best among you are those who are willing to help others. You are the best.”

Flynn said of the people who will live in the house she’s helping build: “What a gift they have given to me, to us, to be more than the individual. Together, we can do what we in Hebrew say as … ‘we can heal the world’ one house at a time.”

New homeowner Ya Landa Kinchelow also spoke, telling the gathering that she feels “blessed in so many ways.” Even the tribulations she has faced have been learning experiences in getting to know God, she said. “I am showing my children that if Mom can keep going, so can you.”

A paint job a long time coming

After wanting to paint her home for 30 years, Vicki Olsen was overjoyed when Habitat Twin Cities chose her to take part in the 2010 Carter Work Project. The asbestos-shingled home had grown yellow with age, the foundation choked by thick maple and ash trees.

When the volunteers came, “I thought they were going to paint, but they just kept doing things. I felt like I’d won the grand prize,” Olsen said. “They ripped out bushes and are rebuilding the deck, repairing the garage, and putting in outside electrical outlets. It’s never ending.”

The volunteers included a contingent from paint maker Valspar Corp., led by Dick Seitz. Seitz was among the first of Valspar’s employees involved in A Brush with Kindness when the company launched it with Twin Cities Habitat in 1999. Seitz said he heads the paint program with Habitat and introduced it to the Carter build in Los Angeles in 2007.

“I have the top crew in the nation,” Seitz said.

“Yes, you do,” his colleague Ruth Hentges called down from the top of a ladder as she painted trim around a window. Hentges said she’s been volunteering on Habitat builds for the entire 12 years she’s been with Valspar, coming on at the start of the ABWK program. “It’s exciting to give back,” she said.

Building by bicycling

Jake Quarstad wants to use bicycles to help Habitat promote the concept that a strong community is more than houses. He sees his role as encouraging people to exercise more and depend less on gas-powered vehicles.

So, naturally, he’s pedaling between build sites in north Minneapolis’ four–block Hawthorne EcoVillage with a “Bikes at Work” brand trailer attached to his Surley Cross-Check touring bike. With it, he hauls water for mixing cement and bottles of water for volunteers. His heaviest load has been close to 500 pounds—no mean feat for a 22-year-old who stands 5 feet, 11 inches and weighs 175 pounds.

But Quarstad isn’t complaining. “I’d rather be in pain for a good cause than out biking on my own,” he said.

Quarstad works as outreach and development manager for a small nonprofit called Nice Ride Minnesota. Nice Ride partnered with other bike-related nonprofits – such as Bike Walk Twin Cities, Quality Bike Products, Now Bikes and Fitness, Midtown Greenway Coalition, and Major Taylor’s Bike Club – in support of the Carter build. Volunteers can borrow a bike to travel between the houses and hospitality tent, and they can depend on guys like Quarstad to bring a trailer-load of supplies.

Lurma Rackley is Development Communications managing editor/writer for Habitat for Humanity International.