In my short time here at Habitat, I've been inspired by the numerous amount of stories of hardworking volunteers, families, and staff. My prayer is that in my position as Community Outreach and Marketing Assistant, I can do these stories justice.
It changed my life,” explained Dalia. “I never thought the simple act of volunteering could do that.” Dalia has an inspiring passion for serving others. “It all started in the Habitat program,” she said.
Dalia and her family moved into their Habitat home about six years ago. Before, her family lived in an area of town where safety was an issue and living conditions were substandard. “Our Habitat home really brought us together as a family. As a family, we’re all more responsible and connected than we’ve ever been. We’re getting our debt paid off, and the home really united us. If I could describe home in one word it’d be blessed.”
Some volunteer with a hammer; others with a needle. Once a month, 15 people from the Grand River Needlepoint Guild gather together to needle pictures for future Habitat Kent homeowners.
When I visited them recently, they were quick to clarify that a variety of ages and genders enjoy needlepointing. One needler spoke up for the guild: “It’s not just us old ladies that do this, we promise.” She also clarified a common misconception. “It’s different than stitching. Needlepoint allows you to get creative with a much broader palette of techniques and threads.”
The Grand River Needlepoint Guild is affiliated with the American Needlepoint Guild, which was founded in 1972 and now has almost 9,500 national and international members. The Grand River Needlepoint Guild started meeting in western and central Michigan in 1994. Last year, they began partnering with Habitat Kent and have needlepointed 22 pictures since.
It started with a successful millionaire couple 40 years ago. Millard and Linda Fuller sought to reaffirm their Christian faith by giving away all of their possessions and moving to a farm, where a group of Christians had gathered to intentionally live according to New Testament values.
Millard Fuller’s approach to starting Habitat for Humanity was counter-cultural even by today’s standards.
As part of their ministry at Koinonia Farm in Americus, Georgia, the Fullers helped neighboring low-income families build affordable homes. Homeowners were expected not only to work with Koinonia volunteers during the construction process but pay back the cost of the house to a revolving fund, called the “Fund for Humanity.” This model allowed volunteers to build even more houses.
I don’t know about you, but I could use a little help when it comes to shaping my worldview. If I’m honest, hearing the phrase “religious institution” often creates a bit of fear in me. It gets my blood pumping a bit.
It’s a complex feeling. One that I’m not proud of. But whether we like it or not, we’re all going to form a worldview which shapes how we see people. What’s important is taking a step back to realize what has shaped our worldview. And at this point, I’ve let negative news headlines and people’s opinions (not facts) shape how I approach other religions. Partner that with a lack of exposure and sticking to my familiar, comfortable, Christian circle and it’s no wonder I have this feeling.
None of our worldviews are perfect. And they never will be. However, in my year and a half at Habitat Kent, I’ve learned a lot about taking small steps towards “building” peace and simply seeing all people as fearfully and wonderfully made. And for me, a big part of the realization came from exposure to Habitat Kent’s approach to interfaith work.
This month marks the beginning of my second AmeriCorps term year at Habitat Kent. I have the privilege to tell our partner family's stories via social media, our blog, etc. I feel honored to remind people of the ‘why we do what we do’ here at Habitat.
Last week, Habitat Michigan generously provided a scholarship for me to attend the Affiliates In Motion conference in Lansing, Michigan. The AIM conference brings affiliates in Michigan together for a three-day conference to collaborate ideas, network, and discuss how we can best serve Michigan together.
I processed a lot of information in that three days, and I wanted to share some lessons and ideas that would be relevant to you and allow you to get to know the “deceptively complex” Habitat for Humanity.
Sweat equity. A phrase that is crucial to our mission at Habitat Kent. Because of the partner families invested in our mission, we witness empowerment, excitement, and hope.
“It’s a way for Habitat families to pay it forward and give back to our community,” said Habitat Kent homebuyer Tiara VanDam about the approach of sweat equity. “We’ve been given a great opportunity, and Habitat requires sweat equity so we can pass it on.”
Some homebuyers will even go so far as to donate hours once they accomplish their required amount. Jasmine Mendez, a homebuyer in the middle of her sweat equity hours recently received 50 donated hours from another family.
I pulled up to the construction site ready to perform my usual routine of taking pictures. I talked to Jason the site supervisor for a bit and spotted a volunteer I’d never seen before.
“You don’t know Fred?” Exclaimed Jason. “You’ve got to meet him, Fred come over here!”
It didn’t take long to realize why Jason insisted I have a conversation with Fred Johnson. His soft, kind, personality was wise and easy to converse with. He’s currently studying at Western Theological Seminary and while most of his colleagues serve at churches, he chose Habitat Kent.
“Why Habitat?” I thought. Since Fred was busy volunteering I set up a time to meet with Fred offsite and hear more of his story.
Fred has helped within many departments at Habitat Kent. Some Fred sightings have included (but are not limited to): pounding nails on site, typing data into a computer, or organizing supplies at the warehouse. Fred experienced jobs in various fields, circumstances that tested him, and cultures that changed him.
Before our dialogue we were mere acquaintances, and it surprised me how much he was willing to share. It reminds me of one of my co-worker’s closing quotes on her e-mails which states, “Being perfect is not what connects people. Vulnerability brings us closer together.” Vulnerability, humility, honesty, and genuine are some words I could use to describe Fred.
In case it’s slipped past you (we’ve been publicizing it a bit), we’re celebrating our completion of the Building Blocks Campaign: helping 200 West Side families in 2 years. It’s been humbling to not only partner with “200 in 2” but also witness volunteers and donors rally behind a cause that is more than the construction of a house- but a revitalization of a community.
“It’s been an honor for us at Gordon Food Services to sponsor a home and help a family,” remarked Tim Fatum, Senior Manager of Human Resources at Gordon Food Services. “But on top of that, it was truly a moving experience when I realized that we’re volunteering for a whole community.”
In a recent interview on the WGVU Morning Show with Shelley Irwin, Jon Hankins, Corporate Relations Specialist at Habitat Kent explained the high impact goal of Building Blocks and how we “seek to break the cycle of poverty for our families.” For a further understanding of how we combat poverty, here are some economic statistics from Building Blocks.
40 new homeowners and 160 homes renovated and repaired in 5 West Side Neighborhoods- These efforts helped to increase property values around the neighborhood and put money into the tax system. Residents are then motivated to fix up their homes and deepen roots in their neighborhood.
$4.9 million was raised/gained to benefit the local economy during the building and selling of homes.
$7 million will be produced to local government, businesses, and employers over 10 years. Vacant or blighted properties that hinder neighborhood development will be transformed and utilized to benefit the community, both socially and economically.
89 local jobs were sustained. Stability in the home allows for more stability in employment and education for families.
12,000 hours of sweat-equity achieved by our hard-working families. These work hours increase the sense of ownership for homeowner families.
What’s most beautiful about these numbers and statistics is that there’s a story of hope behind each one. Thanks to you, we can continue to impact lives and go #BeyondTheHome in Grand Rapids.
Yes- you read it right! Carpets can actually build hope. Scott Group Custom Carpets found a creative way to align luxury carpet sales with the mission of Habitat Kent. The initial thought was to donate rugs, but the employees found it more beneficial to sell the rugs with all proceeds going to Habitat Kent.
Based on that selfless decision by the employees, $11,000 is now going to #BuildHope as part of Habitat Kent’s Building Blocks Campaign. The campaign is wrapping up this summer and will serve a total of 200 families in 2 years in 5 west side neighborhoods.
“We’re incredibly humbled and grateful for support such as this,” expressed Barb Benda, director of resource development at Habitat Kent.
The rain and cold this past Tuesday failed to stop the warm, festive, spirit at the South Division ReStore. Customers, employees, and anyone involved with the refurbishment process gathered for a re-dedication celebration. The ReStore in Wyoming had been closed since July of 2014, when a tornado came through and significantly damaged the building, causing the store to relocate to a temporary location. “It’s been a long ten months,” said Tom Poll, director of Habitat Kent’s three ReStore locations. “I know I’m going to be emotional during my short speech.”
And what a journey the past ten months have been. “Obviously no one predicted this tornado would hit- making these past ten months stressful, hard, and tiresome for our team,” said Gary, a ReStore employee. But what made the celebration so beautiful wasn’t the pizza, spinning discount wheel, selection of items to purchase, or even the amazing building.
The most beautiful part was the selflessness, love, and spirits of everyone who rallied to rebuild the ReStore into something better than anyone could have imagined. Friends and supporters of Habitat Kent immediately volunteered to help in any way possible. Whether it was businesses lending their trucks after the tornado hit or retail professionals volunteering tirelessly to make the store look as spaced out and clean as possible.
“While the tornado was devastating for everyone involved at the time, I couldn’t help but be hopeful for the location’s future,” said Mary Buikema, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Kent County. Hope is contagious. And it was contagious throughout the whole rededication.
“This ReStore looks so much more clean, organized, and bright than the location even before the tornado” explained Arvin, a loyal customer for five years.
I could not wipe a smile off of my face. Because the whole time I was able to witness how God can use hopeless situations, such as tornados, to give us something bigger and better than we can even imagine. Dan, an employee who has greeted customers at the door for eight years at the Division location was quick to speak at the ceremony, “I’ve worked here for eight years, and while the past ten months has been extremely difficult, it’s the best thing that has ever happened to this ReStore location.”
And I am not lying when I say that the new ReStore is better than it ever has been. Dave, a ReStore employee, smiled and told me, “Today, in our first day of business, some customers have complained saying, ‘this is too nice.’ If that’s the worst complaint we get from a customer, we’ll take it.”
All three ReStore locations celebrated on the day, giving away free prizes, treats, and of course great deals. But the Division location was the epicenter of the celebration, hosting a re-dedication ceremony with words from Hyde and Buikema.
“It’s just like a Habitat home dedication,” said Dave. “And I think the reason our staff is so emotional is due to the fact that we after a long ten months, we are finally returning home.”