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Who’s helping Habitat -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Who’s helping Habitat

Meet nine volunteers who are making a difference.

NAME:
Barbara Grasseschi
LOCATION:
Healdsburg, California
ROLE:
Volunteer Advocate

 

 

Barbara Grasseschi

   


In 2001, Barbara Grasseschi traded a job at a tech company in the South Bay area for a farm in Sonoma County, California. She had been a Habitat donor in the past and with a little more free time at the farm, she was eager to deepen her involvement. She looked up the local affiliate and found out that though there were Habitat projects in the southern part of the county, there wasn’t much going on in her community.

So Barbara decided to see if she could get something started. Land is expensive in Healdsburg because there aren’t many infill lots available, she says. Out of curiosity and a desire to get to know the people involved in making decisions about land, she attended a city council meeting. And another. And another.

After two years of patiently building relationships—attending meetings, talking with council members over lunch, meeting city staff members and spreading the word about Habitat’s work—Barbara got a lead on a piece of property that might be a good match for Habitat. In reality, the lot was perfect: located in the city; within walking distance of schools, shopping and a bus line; and across the street from a community park. The affiliate bought the lot with redevelopment funds from the city.

Though the local need for affordable housing will hardly be satisfied by the two homes the affiliate plans to build there, the act of building anything at all makes an impact by elevating the issue in the minds of community members, Barbara says.

“The council is an excellent place to start,” she counsels. “There’s a lot of money available through state and local governments, and if you’re not in front of them, they’re not going to know about you. The most surprising thing for me after we did this is that one person can make a difference. It wasn’t that people didn’t like Habitat or think it was a good idea, but it takes just one person saying, ‘No, really, we need to do this.’ So it is just one person … and two years of council meetings.”

NAME:
Elspeth O’Neil
LOCATION:
Lafayette, Indiana
ROLE:
AmeriCorps Member

 

 

Elspeth O’Neil

   


Elspeth O’Neil graduated from college with a degree in psychology in May, wrapping up years of study, testing and learning. She decided to spend her first year out of college, however, serving as an AmeriCorps member in her hometown of Lafayette, Indiana, and her education has only continued.

Habitat AmeriCorps members participate in a partnership between Habitat and the Corporation for National and Community Service. During the 2008-2009 program year, more than 500 AmeriCorps volunteers helped Habitat build nearly 2,000 houses while recruiting and retaining new volunteers at their affiliates.

Elspeth’s project for her one-year term of service is to establish an A Brush with Kindness program at Lafayette Habitat, a program in which Habitat volunteers help area homeowners with simple repair projects. Her first task was to organize a pilot project for repairs on some older Habitat houses, taking advantage of the affiliate’s pre-existing relationship with the homeowners to learn the ropes of a repair program.

“It’s turned out to be my little baby,” Elspeth says. “I’ve met with people in the city, and we did a pilot project on four of our Habitat houses. I led a large youth group from Minnesota for a week where we landscaped the four houses, powerwashed them, restained the deck and pulled a bunch of weeds from a parking area.”

With daily activities ranging from construction tasks to translating for Spanish-speaking applicants, Elspeth is finding abundant opportunities to grow both the affiliate’s capacity for providing decent housing and her own skills. “I would like to realize some strengths within myself, and maybe find some I didn’t know about,” Elspeth says. “I’d also like to help build community around Habitat homes. That’s a big goal of mine—to get people really involved with that throughout the city.”

NAME
: Joe Dappen
LOCATION:
Lincoln, Nebraska
ROLE:
Construction Volunteer

 

 

Joe Dappen

   


Habitat got started in the Lincoln, Nebraska area in 1988, just before a chemistry teacher named Joe Dappen was planning to retire. He was used to doing construction projects on his own during the summer, and Habitat seemed like a natural fit, so he jumped into the organizational fray of a new affiliate’s first construction project.

Now, more than 20 years later, Joe has helped construct all 100 of Lincoln/Lancaster Habitat’s houses. Each Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday find Joe and several friends—including Tom, Jack and Ormand, three other men in their 70s and 80s—on the build site. Joe insists that his volunteer achievement is more a matter of time than an indication of any particular talent; once they build a few more houses, he’ll have lots more company in the 100-house mark.

“Those three guys I mentioned, and myself, and nearly a half dozen more are pretty regular and come nearly every time we build,” he says. “I really enjoy doing it all—the framing is good, I just like it all.”

Instead of diminishing Joe’s enthusiasm for building, the time he has spent volunteering for Habitat has given him perspective and confidence about the future of the organization: “We’re building eight or 10 houses each year, all well-sponsored, and we seem to be getting people that really need the houses and are very eager to help build them,” he says. “I think it’s going great now.”

NAME:
Walter Beerman
LOCATION:
Sofia, Bulgaria
ROLE:
International Volunteer Program Participant

 

 

Walter Beerman

   


Walter Beerman wanted to make a difference and take a journey. He had two main goals: to work and volunteer for an American nongovernmental organization and to live and work in Eastern Europe for an extended period of time. The answer for Walter turned out to be Habitat’s International Volunteer Program, which in fiscal year 2008 created opportunities for 41 Habitat volunteers like Walter to serve with one of the organization’s overseas offices for several months.

Remembering the stories he had heard about his uncle’s back-to-back Global Village trips to Poland, Walter decided to use his professional expertise in mortgage banking and residential mortgage lending to work for Habitat Bulgaria. “Habitat Bulgaria’s No. 1 priority for 2009 was to help provide education programs for the establishment of homeowners associations,” he says. “In mortgage banking, I worked approving condominium projects and their respective homeowners associations. My duties were different in banking than with Habitat Bulgaria, but I was very familiar with the terminology used.”

During his time in Sofia—where the 64-year-old easily took to city living and says he felt like he was “in my 30s again”—Walter also helped the national organization lay the groundwork for fundraising activities and, perhaps most memorably, contributed homeowner stories to the Habitat Bulgaria Web site. “My most fond activities were visiting beneficiary families in their houses,” he says. “The Roma people live under hardships, but they still have respect for their homeownership.”

With his first Habitat volunteer experience under his belt, the Mercer Island, Wash., resident has turned his focus closer to home, now planning to volunteer with Habitat Seattle/South King County.

NAME:
Laura Hernandez
LOCATION:
Santa Fe, New Mexico
ROLE:
Volunteer Fundraiser

 

 

Laura Hernandez (left)

   


Laura Hernandez had plenty to do already. A Habitat homeowner of seven years, she works full-time, serves on her affiliate’s family selection and family support committees, bakes cakes for house dedications, and recently oversaw her 18-year-old son’s transition from her home to a nest of his own. But when she attended Habitat’s national conference in Atlanta last January and saw the photos and videos of deplorable housing conditions around the world, her heart got even bigger.

Her executive director, who was attending the conference with her, casually asked if she thought she could raise a thousand dollars. Laura said, “Sure,” and the challenge began.

Not sure where to start, Laura decided to focus on building a house in Egypt, mostly because that was a location where a little money would go a long way. She put out coffee cans for donations in coffee shops, banks and grocery stores. She solicited donations for a raffle and organized a bake sale. Finally, she worked with other homeowners to put on a two-day yard sale that brought in $1,500.

Impressed by her enthusiasm and success, the board of directors of the Santa Fe affiliate voted to match the amount she’d raised, providing the funding to help two Egyptian families build safe, decent homes.

“I can remember the day they called me and told me seven years ago that I’d gotten a home,” Laura says. “I had tears of joy. It was just like that when they called on the phone to tell me how much money I’d raised. I couldn’t even talk on the phone.

“To know that someone can live under a roof with running water and have a place to lay their head without having to worry about anything, it’s so emotional.”

NAME:
Dave and Mary Vandeveld
LOCATION:
Wherever the road leads
ROLE
: RV Care-A-Vanners

 

 

Dave and Mary Vandeveld

   


Where most retirees’ RVs would be filled with travel guides, the Vandevelds’ is full of tools.

Enjoying their newfound freedom, the retired small business owner and doctor hit the road in 1998, but after two years decided it was time to give something back and signed up for their first build as RV Care-A-Vanners. There are more than 6,000 RVers registered in the Habitat program, with about 1,000 of those active at any given time; these volunteers participate in build events around the United States that normally last two weeks.

In their travels around the country, the Vandevelds found themselves volunteering with Habitat Glynn County in Brunswick, Ga., in 2005. The need they have encountered there is so great, Mary says, that the couple has returned every winter to help lead the affiliate’s build team, recruiting other Care-A-Vanners along the way. While in Brunswick, they also do what all RV Care-A-Vanners do: not only building, but helping to educate the community by sharing what Habitat is all about.

In 2007, Mary participated in the inaugural Women Build Leadership Training course in Mobile, Ala., and returned there the next year to lead the first-ever Senior Women Build where 120 women—and, yes, some men—dried-in a house in three days. While Mary was busy with her leadership training, Dave was back in Brunswick keeping the hammers swinging.

In the summers, Dave and Mary spend time with family and try to get a summer build or two in before returning to Glynn County each October where they are continuing their quest to replace all of the county’s substandard, unsafe housing in their lifetime. “We receive far more sense of purpose and fulfillment from our Habitat work,” says Mary, “than we can possibly give back.”

NAME:
Dale Korte
LOCATION:
St. Louis, Missouri
ROLE:
Corporate Partner Volunteer

 

 

Dale Korte

   


If it hadn’t been for a water-cooler conversation, Dale Korte might never have helped build a Habitat house.

Dale, the business development program manager senior vice president with Citibank’s consumer lending division, was known as an active volunteer; he’d spent time helping to improve a local park near his Missouri home. One day, Citi’s volunteer coordinator encouraged him to try out Habitat. “I don’t know that I would ever have found it, otherwise,” he says.

On a December day, with five inches of snow on the ground, Dale joined a crew of other Citi employees to put the finishing touches on a Habitat house in St. Louis. “I just fell in love with it,” the 58-year-old says. “It’s the best hard work you’ll ever do. Getting to work side by side with the homeowner and to see them making a home for their family is truly the best reward there is.”

Through Citi’s volunteer recognition program, Dale soon expanded his Habitat efforts, receiving time off to attend Carter Work Projects in Mexico, Michigan and India. He’s grown to love Habitat so much that he’s been known to use his vacation time to work on local blitz builds and two other Carter projects. He also has made sure to maximize his volunteer experiences to Habitat’s benefit, eventually serving as both a crew leader and a house leader.

Habitat’s many corporate partners generously support the organization’s mission in a variety of ways, and they always bring volunteers like Dale to build sites around the world. During the Citi-Habitat partnership, for example, which has been in place since 2000, Citi employees have contributed more than 176,000 volunteer hours, resulting in more than 350 homes worldwide.

Dale isn’t stopping any time soon. “I’ve always said that I would like to be the guy in his 80s that’s built on a hundred different builds,” he says. “I could see this lasting a long time.”

NAME:
Maria Flesher
LOCATION:
Bremerton, Washington
ROLE:
Women Build Volunteer

 

 

Maria Flesher

   


Standing tall on the rooftop of an under-construction Habitat house is not something Maria Flesher ever thought she would do.

The 52-year-old had been thinking about volunteering on a build site for more than a year, but was hesitant because she had no previous construction experience. And she wasn’t so sure about the idea of climbing up one of those ladders.

One day, at the grocery store, a volunteer handed her a flier for a local organization and “simply and softly said, ‘Help if you can,’” Maria recalls. “Over the next months, the young woman’s words played over and over in my head. I knew that I needed to volunteer, and I wanted to volunteer for Habitat.”

Before too long, Maria heard that one of her local Habitat affiliates was hosting a Women Build Leadership Training Class. “I knew this was my chance to take action,” she says. And take action she did. “Two months after the class,” she reports, “through the encouragement and support of women, I was able to stand tall on the top of a roof! Who would have thought I would have been framing, raising trusses and roofing houses?”

Flesher hasn’t stopped, building with both Habitat Kitsap County and Tacoma/Pierce County Habitat, as well as recruiting women from her workplace for Women Build projects. “On Fridays,” she says, “I wear my construction gear and share Habitat with my coworkers. The excitement is spreading!”