By Shelly Whittet
Volunteers have always been at the heart of Habitat’s work—at affiliates around the country and world and at Habitat for Humanity International headquarters.
One of those volunteers is Bill Fitzgerald, who is in his fourth stint serving with Habitat for Humanity International in Americus, Georgia, through the U.S. Volunteer Program. A proud Chicago native and dedicated runner, Fitzgerald had a chance encounter with a former Habitat World editor at a Tampa, Florida, running event where he was speaking for the Chicago Area Runners Association.
She encouraged Fitzgerald to join a Global Village trip, and he eventually joined a team to Beius, Romania. Little did he know, the trip would be life-changing. He has since led seven trips back to Beius—resulting in dozens of volunteers and families served. He speaks compassionately of Romania’s struggles in the post-Soviet era and the kindness of the people he has built relationships with in Eastern Europe.
In 2005, Fitzgerald was offered early retirement from Chicago’s Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, where he had worked for 30 years. Rose Morgan, the HFHI staff member who had coordinated Fitzgerald’s trips, encouraged him to consider volunteering longer term with Habitat.
In June 2005, Fitzgerald went to Americus to volunteer with the Global Village office for eight months. “[I ended up volunteering with Habitat] through a lot of coincidences and meeting people. But I guess that’s what life is. You get out there and do it, and guess what? Things are going to happen,” Fitzgerald said.
Returning over and over, he has worked to settle expense accounts, ensure teams get their funds, coordinate other long-term volunteers and interview and prepare future Global Village team leaders.
“Every year, Bill returns to Americus, bringing his positive energy, a willingness to tackle new projects and a commitment to inspiring volunteers to get involved with Habitat and make a difference,” said Rose Morgan, HFHI Volunteer Engagement supervisor.
For his part, Fitzgerald says he is just appreciative of the work he is able to do. “It’s just life-altering to be able to contribute to building homes, getting to know the people of Beius, Romania, over the years, seeing the progress that’s been made in that part of the world, meeting the hundreds of people that have come on my trips over the years, being exposed to the Americus community,” Fitzgerald said.
He continues to spend his time volunteering because of his belief in the basic need for shelter and his commitment to making a difference.
“It becomes a question you have to ask yourself,” he said. “When you get out of bed in the morning—what is it that you want to do?”