A North Carolina volunteer finds family in the Habitat ReStore

“Giving back is the main part of life. And sharing. It’s just like a light that shines. You don’t cover it up. If you cover it up, you have no light,” says Our Towns Habitat volunteer Ron Donaldson.

Donaldson began volunteering at Our Towns Habitat’s ReStore in Cornelius, N.C., in 2008, as a home partner completing his sweat-equity hours. In addition to building and buying a Habitat house of his own, the retired Army veteran found a second “home” at the ReStore — and a second family, too.

Donaldson began coming in every week day — putting in about 40 hours each week — and he hasn’t stopped yet.

ReStore manager Jill Laney says Donaldson had invested more than 1,000 hours of sweat equity by the time his home was completed, far exceeding the 400 hours the affiliate requires of its homeowner partners. Donaldson accumulated most of those hours by working at the ReStore.

“For some reason, everyone here at the store got used to me and enjoyed talking to me, and I enjoyed talking to them, and it just began to grow,” he says. “I made a vow at [my home] dedication that I would volunteer for them as long as I could.”

Though Donaldson’s official duty in the ReStore is to test, fix and clean donated small appliances, he has learned most of the other jobs in the store as well. Once he’s done with the items in his section, he goes to see what he can help with in the rest of the store.

“Regardless of what we need, he is always there to help,” Laney says. “I’m very thankful to have him as a volunteer, but I’m personally thankful to have him in my life. My son is 7, and Ron is the first person he will look for when he comes into my store. My son is always so excited and will tell Ron how much he has missed him. Ron has joined my family for Thanksgiving before, for birthday parties. He really is part of our family.”

Donaldson calls Laney’s son “another joy. I wouldn’t take anything for being his friend. I told him he was my little brother, and he said, ‘No, you’re my big brother!’”

For Donaldson, the close bond was an unexpected addition to the joy he had already found in helping others.

“If I had it to do all over again, I would do it the same way. I’d share my life with these wonderful people. Absolutely.”

Shop, donate, volunteer — find out more about your local ReStore.