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Habitat Kent Blog

Seeking to put God's love into action, Habitat for Humanity of Kent County brings people together to build homes, communities, and hope.

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Carl has been a part of the ReStore family since its beginning. Hear how he helped build the first ReStore in Kent County and why he loves working with the ReStore donors and customers. Pictured below is a greenhouse made from materials purchased at ReStore South in Wyoming. The customer dropped off this photo to Carl after they talked about what project the materials were being used for. 


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     There are a little over 1.5 million nonprofit charities in the United States with unique missions and ideals*. But remaining sustainable over time can be crucial to the success of a nonprofit's vision. Habitat Kent is thankful to have over 30 years of building hope in Kent County through a sustainable model.

     Habitat Kent cannot build a home without volunteers and donors. The past two years Habitat Kent has engaged over 19,000 volunteers that helped make the building and repairing of homes possible. By volunteering free labor, the construction team can build a home for a sliver of the cost of a commercial build because of the overwhelming volunteerism on sites.

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     State Farm has given $10,000 to Habitat for Humanity of Kent County for their Homebuyer Financial Education Program for the 2015 year.

     The finances will go towards specific programs that Habitat Kent homebuyers are required to take as a part of their sweat equity hours necessary to buy a home. These programs include Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, which has a national partnership with Habitat for Humanity International.

     The donation was through State Farm’s Good Citizenship Grant under education that states “better educated communities includes providing access to personal financial education and job training,” according to the State Farm website. 

     State Farm has donated $22,000 total in the last two years benefitting Habitat Kent’s homebuyer financial education program.

     “We are grateful for State Farm’s continued investment in providing our homebuyers with quality financial education programs that will impact them for the rest of their lives,” said Jon Hankins, Corporate Relations Specialist at Habitat Kent. 

     Members of State Farm that spurred on the giving to Habitat Kent are Public Affairs Specialist Nick Metzger and State Farm Agent Marsha Veenstra who serves on Habitat Kent’s board of directors. 

About State Farm

State Farm and its affiliates is the largest provider of car insurance in the U.S. In addition to providing auto insurance quotes, their 18,000 agents and more than 65,000 employees serve over 82 million policies and accounts – nearly 80 million auto, home, life, health and commercial policies, and nearly 2 million bank accounts. Commercial auto insurance, along with coverage for renters, business owners, boats and motorcycles, is available.


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     The no. 1 “myth of Habitat for Humanity of Kent County” is that they build and give homes away for free. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

     Not only do Habitat Kent home buyers actually buy the home, they have to earn 300-500 hours of sweat equity in order to move in. This sweat equity includes working on their home and other Habitat Kent homes as well as participating in 40 hours of required educational programs. 

     These educational programs cultivate an understanding of owning a home. From budgeting to lawn maintenance, the knowledge learned by Habitat Kent homebuyers lasts a lifetime. 

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     Habitat for Humanity of Kent County and local Catholics are taking Pope Francis’ call of service to heart – and in September will honor his U.S. visit by starting work on a local Habitat Kent home being called the Pope Francis Build.

     Volunteers will begin working on the home at 708 Oakland Ave. SW on Sept. 26 – the same day Pope Francis arrives in Philadelphia. During the next several months, Habitat Kent expects several hundred Catholics from as many as 15 local parishes, schools and Catholic organizations to volunteer on the project. They include the Diocese of Grand Rapids, the Cathedral of St. Andrew, St. Alphonsus, St. Patrick, St. Pius X, St. Robert of Newminster, Saint Thomas the Apostle, St. Stephen, Ss. Peter and Paul, Aquinas College, the Cathedral chapter of the Knights of Columbus and Catholic Charities West Michigan. 

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     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. 

     FredQuoteFred 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.

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     “We just liked the idea that we could do something to help someone get a roof over their head,” Dave resounded. “It’s tough to have a good day if you don’t have a roof over your head.”

     It is a rare occurrence to meet someone, let alone two people, who embody so many qualities that you admire. Laurie and Dave Russell are compassionate, inventive, humble, and hopeful. They have been consistent donors, volunteers, and enthusiasts at Habitat for Humanity of Kent County for upwards of two decades. The act of giving back through Habitat Kent is a trait they fostered in their children from a young age and grew to become a family bonding tradition. Beyond their plentiful labor on work sites, their generous spirit will continue to help others in a new way: the Dave and Laurie Russell Family Scholarship for Habitat for Humanity of Kent County Families.  

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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.   

Building Blocks newstory on WZZM 13

Shelley Irwin Radio Interview with Jon Hankins, WGVU

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Hear the story of Ignace and his journey from Mozambique to Grand Rapids. Together with his wife and four daughters he was able to apply to the Habitat Kent homeownership program, complete his 325 hours of sweat equity, and build a home for his family. The Karageyas new home at 1045 Dorchester Ave. will be dedicated on Tuesday July 21st. 



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     Habitat Kent desire’s to create permanent change in people’s lives. We do this by building affordable and sustainable homes while empowering neighborhoods to create a positive change in the community. But as crucial as owning a home can be for a family, a reliable job can be just as influential. 

     Desire was born in Burundi and then moved to Rwanda with his parents at a very young age. He came to America to help support his family with opportunities not found back home. Because English isn’t Desire’s first language, he had trouble getting plugged into a stable career opportunity. Enter Express Employment Professionals. 

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     At Habitat for Humanity of Kent County, we believe our role as being good stewards should apply to all aspects of our work and extend into the life of the homes we build. Our construction team strives to use a sustainable building model, effectively lowering utility bills, decreasing the impact on the environment while creating a healthy home for our homeowners.

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     Growing up in Tijuana, Mexico as a missionary's son helped prepare Danny Geurink in the business of building hope for people in need. Listen to Danny, the construction program manager at Habitat Kent, discuss the importance of green building practices as well as the innovation of Habitat Kent construction. 

     Welcome to Beyond the Home. Habitat for Humanity of Kent County’s look into the people, places, events, and stories that brings us together to build homes, communities, and hope.


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     Employees from Lowe’s Home Improvement Stores gathered from multiple Grand Rapids area stores for a day a service in the Roosevelt Park neighborhood. 22 employees or “Lowe’s Heroes” took time from work to use their talents to help spruce up the Roosevelt Park Community Garden, which is located adjacent to the Caesar Chavez Elementary parking lot. 

     “Some [Lowe’s employees] are even volunteering all day, then working from 3pm-12am tonight,” said Lou Green, store manager and Lowe’s spokesmen for the event. “We love supporting the community that supports us.”

     The Lowe’s Heroes worked from 9:30am-3:30pm at the garden by taking apart an existing fence to move, spreading mulch inside and outside the garden, completing a pea stone pathway, and beginning construction on a new shed for the Roosevelt Park Neighborhood Association.

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     Since 2007, every Habitat Kent constructed home has been LEED certified. This certification means that each home represents the highest standards of sustainable building practices and healthy living quality. According to their website LEED “is a green building certification program that recognizes best-in-class building strategies and practices.”

     Out of 150 built LEED certified homes by Habitat Kent, one of the most recent homes in Grand Rapids, MI is a flagship in construction quality. 1561 Rathbone SW was originally an ignored home in near inhabitable conditions. This rehab project began construction in the summer heat and was host to hundreds of volunteers toiling through the dust and rotting lumber. But in half a year, the once debilitated structure stood out among the crisp winter snow as a beautiful new home for Blu and his young family. 

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     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. 

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      Habitat for Humanity of Kent County has been awarded a $35,500 grant from Lowe’s to revitalize the Roosevelt Park neighborhood in Grand Rapids as part of Habitat’s Neighborhood Revitalization, a nationwide program dedicated to serving more families through community development partnerships. Lowe’s awarded $1.2 million in grants to 14 Habitat affiliates across the country to support more than 300 community improvement projects ranging from critical repairs to new home construction. 

     Habitat Kent will use the funds to help residents improve their yards with curb appeal projects and to landscape public space. These projects will celebrate the arts, culture, and unique identity of the Roosevelt Park neighborhood, as well as making a significant contribution to the long-term neighborhood transformation effort.  

     "We are very thankful for Lowe's and their generous contribution to Habitat Kent," said Mary Buikema, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Kent County. "Our partnership with Lowe's will help transform the Roosevelt Park neighborhood into a place that enhances the community and homeowners who live there. 

     Through Habitat’s Neighborhood Revitalization efforts, Habitat affiliates offer an expanded array of housing services and partner with local residents, housing leaders, community groups and businesses to transform neighborhoods and enhance the quality of life in communities. 

     “Habitat’s Neighborhood Revitalization program has made a lasting impact in communities across the country,” said Joan Higginbotham, Lowe's director of community relations. “Lowe's is proud to support Habitat Kent to make a difference in the Grand Rapids community.”

      A national partner since 2003, Lowe’s has committed more than $63 million to Habitat for Humanity and helped more than 4,000 families improve their living conditions. Each year, Lowe’s provides grants and volunteer assistance to affiliates, supports National Women Build Week and conducts how-to clinics at stores to teach volunteers construction skills. 


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     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.” 


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Zhelle and Edward Baker were lost. Drug addiction and unalterable external circumstances left them in poor housing conditions. These conditions impacted their family by being unable to thrive and barley survive. The Bakers began to make positive changes in their lives to alter their poor living conditions. These decisions included applying for homeownership at Habitat for Humanity of Kent County. Unfortunately, the Bakers were denied from the program because their total income was too large. Yet they continued to press on in hopes of a better future. Then it happened. Edward Baker had a stroke and was unable to work. How could Zhelle provide for their family and find a stable and safe place to live? They decided to apply for homeownership with Habitat Kent again and were accepted. But the Baker's unstoppable determination would be needed throughout the build process and into homeownership. Discover the rest of the Baker's journey in the video above as we congratulate them as the 2014 Homeowners of the Year. 

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         When Haiti was struck by an earthquake in 2010, 1.6 million people were displaced from their homes and many families began to build homes on vacant land north of Port-au-Prince. That's where Habitat for Humanity came in. To assist these families, Habitat Haiti developed manuals to help them navigate Haiti’s land tenure laws and gain clear title to their homes. 

        Habitat for Humanity of Kent County will celebrate reaching $1 million of cumulative giving to international housing and relief work with a visit from Claude Jeudy, national director of Habitat for Humanity of Haiti.

        More than 30 local churches, organizations and businesses that do work in Haiti have been invited to participate in the celebration, which will take place 4:30 to 6 p.m. April 19 at Roosevelt Park Community CRC, 811 Chicago Drive SW. The event is free and open to the public. Jeudy, who has devoted his career to economic development in Haiti, will speak at 4:30 p.m. Under his leadership, Habitat Haiti has served more than 50,000 families.

        As part of its covenant with Habitat for Humanity International, each of the approximately 1,500 Habitat for Humanity local affiliate organizations throughout the United States and Canada tithe a portion of the unrestricted donations they receive to support one of Habitat for Humanity’s 70 international affiliates. After 32 years, Habitat Kent is the first Michigan affiliate to provide more than $1 million in support of affordable housing throughout the developing world. The donations equate to 300 homes for low-income families throughout the world, many of which are living in extreme poverty.

         In addition to operating under the familiar Habitat for Humanity model of enabling homeownership for low-income families, Habitat Haiti offers innovative programs that are tied very closely to the community’s needs. These unique challenges include high unemployment, gender inequity and navigating the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that occurred in 2010.

        Haiti’s unemployment rate is estimated at over 40 percent. To stimulate the country’s economy, Habitat Haiti employs and pays wages to would-be volunteers, who build more than houses. Habitat Haiti also performs a broad scope of work to improve the infrastructure of the neighborhoods in which it works such as digging drainage ditches and wells to ensure a community has clean water.

         Habitat Haiti also recognizes the complicated relationship between gender equality and economic development. The affiliate has equipped 2,000 women in Haiti in small business development and home maintenance. Habitat Haiti also assembles and gives out tool kits to families that have skills but lack the resources to improve their own housing.

Join the Facebook event at:

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          I can remember being a young teenager raking leaves in my parents backyard with my brother. It was a cool fall Saturday and once again I was doing chores instead of what I wanted to do—watch football. But we made the most of the chore time and talked about our lives while making leaf piles across the yard.I still remember my brother pouring out to me all of his dreams of being in the military. He shared how he wanted to be in the Navy and to be in a special forces unit. Unlike most high school sophomores, my brother's dreams weren't wishful thinking. Somehow in his voice and demeanor I knew he was going to make it. From that Saturday onward my brother's determination never altered. After more than 7 years of applications, military school, injuries, tribulations, and challenges my brother is currently beginning his deployment with a special forces unit in the Navy. I couldn't be more proud of him. He overcame obstacles to reach his goal, not for his self-glorification, but to save American lives and lead men courageously. In honor of my brother I'm giving to our Habitat Veteran Build. The Habitat volunteers and veterans show the same determination I see in my brother. I want to honor my brother by helping his fellow servicemen. 

You can donate in honor or memory of a serviceman or veteran at:



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425 Pleasant Street SW
Grand Rapids, MI 49503