Twin Cities crews celebrate revitalization -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Twin Cities crews celebrate revitalization


Volunteers working on Melody Lawson’s home in Minneapolis, Minnesota, start to disassemble scaffolding on the front of the house. ©Habitat for Humanity/George L. Hipple


House Leader Bill Turner instructs Dave Harmann, a volunteer who works for General Mills. Turner has been volunteering on Habitat for Humanity crews for 18 years, but he took on the role of house leader for the first time at this year’s Carter project. ©Habitat for Humanity/George L. Hipple


A Brush with Kindness team leader Ron Kuhn cuts roof flashing on the final day of the Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project in St. Paul, Minnesota. ©Habitat for Humanity/Andrea Cole


By Cheryl Winget

The unseasonably warm weather and brilliant blue skies were certainly appreciated, but not quite a match for the sunny dispositions of the Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project volunteers Friday. They had helped build, rehab or repair 26 homes in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, and were ready to rejoice in the work that had been done to regenerate two struggling neighborhoods.

“It has been an outstanding week,” said Pat Lund, Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity’s manager of the A Brush with Kindness program. “We’ve had tremendous crew leaders, tremendous volunteers and tremendous weather. It was a trifecta!”

As temperatures soared into the low 80s on Friday, crews completed their assignments and looked forward to the two block parties that would take place—one in each city—to celebrate all that had been accomplished.

Andy Barnett, director of construction for the Twin Cities affiliate, was encouraged by the volunteers’ collective ability to exceed the goals he had set for the week. “These were challenging homes” to work on, Barnett explained. “They were designed to fit into a neighborhood of old two-story homes. But the work that was done was done well. We did not sacrifice quality for speed.”

Lund voiced his appreciation for the inclusion of A Brush with Kindness into the overall project. “It shined a light on the plight of low-income people who own their home but are struggling to keep it up, to maintain a nice place to live,” he said. “If we didn’t help them, some would be in danger of losing their homes. They can be cited for code violations and fined, and they can even lose their home insurance. These situations can eventually lead to foreclosure.”

Five new homes were framed and enclosed during the week, with the roofs and all the windows and doors installed. Volunteers will finish these homes over the winter months. Nine additional homes that had been foreclosures were rehabbed and are now “99 percent complete,” according to Barnett. A Brush with Kindness volunteers worked on 12 homes, doing a variety of tasks that included exterior painting, landscaping and fence repair. They also built a ramp for one homeowner who suffered from arthritis and was unable to get out of her home whenever her condition forced her to use a wheelchair.

“It has been a great week,” Barnett said. “I told my house leaders and crews that this would be ‘the Carter Work Project meets revitalization.’”

Volunteer Kari Brolsma beamed as she gave her assessment of the week: “This has been one of the highlights of my year, maybe even my life. It has been an amazing experience to help bring these neighborhoods back, to revitalize them.”

Twenty-six happy partner families would agree.

A ‘most reliable’ volunteer

It has been said that senior volunteers are the most reliable people in the world. Bill Turner, an 85-year-old construction volunteer for Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity, is beyond reliable. He has been steadily volunteering on construction crews for 18 years.

Earlier this year, when he was asked to fill the role of volunteer house leader—something he had never done before—during the Carter Work Project in Minneapolis, he didn’t hesitate.

“I had actually signed up to be a crew leader,” Turner explained, but when Barnett called, “he said he wanted me to be a house leader. Sure, I was a little anxious, thinking I might make some mistakes, but this has been a great week. It was easier than I thought it would be!”

Turner directed work on a house on Lyndale Avenue in the Hawthorne neighborhood. The rehab required substantial reframing, but by the end of the week, Turner’s volunteer crews had brought the home to “visual completion,” with only some minor detail work remaining.

As the Carter Work Project came to a close Friday, Turner proudly added the title of “house leader” to his already impressive volunteer résumé.

“It is so nice to sit back and see what has been accomplished,” he said.

‘It’s the gratitude’

“I love construction,” says 66-year-old Ron Kuhn, who regularly volunteers with Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity. “I’m always learning, and it keeps me young.”

Kuhn has a long history of volunteering with Habitat. He was introduced to it 10 years ago after his parish, St. Michael’s Lutheran, joined a coalition of churches in Roseville, Minnesota, and created a volunteer group that called themselves the Holy Hammers. Each year, this coalition sponsors the construction of one Habitat house, and the Holy Hammers help build it.

For the 2010 Jimmy & Rosalyn Carter Work Project, Kuhn helped out as a team leader for the A Brush with Kindness program.

“A Brush with Kindness is a wonderful program, a perfect fit,” Kuhn said with conviction. “It rounds out the work that Habitat for Humanity does.”

Kuhn’s five grown children are proud of their dad and his volunteering spirit.

“When my son-in-law visited from Texas, I brought him with me to a Habitat site,” Kuhn said. “Now he wants to volunteer with the Austin affiliate, and he is contacting them to see when he can do that.”

When asked what he will most remember about this year’s Carter project, he said without hesitation: “The gratitude. It’s the gratitude of the families that makes the difference.”

Cheryl Winget is a community relations manager with Habitat for Humanity International.