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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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Nancy Mack understands the power and importance of a home. She had moved 14 times and lived in six different states before moving to West Michigan several years ago.


Like so many of our Habitat homebuyers, Nancy was longing for a place to put down roots, a place to belong. And for her, just like our homebuyers, that meant owning a home of her own. 


Naturally, when she bought her first house, she made that investment a priority. Again, just like a Habitat homeowner, she paid her mortgage early and often.


“It was the first entry in my checkbook every month,” she remembers. “I didn’t always want it to be first, but I knew it was something I had to do.”


Nancy’s commitment paid off, of course. She closed out her mortgage years ahead of schedule, freeing up that first line in her check book for whatever she wanted.


And Nancy knew exactly what she wanted. She wanted to keep paying her mortgage — to Habitat, that is. On the one-year anniversary of her final mortgage payment, Nancy filled out a check for the same amount and sent it to Habitat Kent. “I wanted others to experience the same thing I did—that sense of community, that sense of belonging,” she says. 


“It stayed in my mind all year. I had a sticky note, but I didn’t need the reminder. It was a celebration for me that I could share by helping others.


We’re blessed to have such wonderful partners who consider having and owning just another chance for giving. Thank you, Nancy, for your generosity!


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Thanks to you, we're dreaming big this Christmas. We're dreaming of our new home, which we just started building with Habitat.

And thanks to you, our new neighborhood is full of people touched by Habitat's work: the veteran across the street whose home Habitat repaired, the Habitat family moving in next door, and so many more.

Because of you, families like us are building a stronger community.

This Christmas, we pray you will be blessed just as you have been a blessign to us, and in this season of giving we hope you will continue to support Habitat's mission.

Your gift will build a hopeful future for so many families like us!

- The Mata Family, Habitat homebuyers


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Debbie has lived in her house for 26 years. She and her husband moved in shortly after they married. They raised their kids there, watching them turn into adults and move on to their own homes. Debbie so many memories built into her home. She loves it.

But when her husband recently passed away, she didn't know how she could maintain it. "I just haven't had a way to keep it up," she said. The chimney started leaning. ("I was afraid it would just fall off," said Debbie.) The porch and the siding needed to be repaired. Debbie didn't know what to do.

But then she learned about Habitat Kent's Brush with Kindness program, which helps people like her, who already own a home, complete repairs and renovations to keep the home in good shape. Two ABWK volunteer crews helped remove the chimney, repair the siding, and renovate her porch. And Debbie was right there with them, learning the tools and skills and pitching in on her own repairs.

Debbie had to fight back tears as she explained just how much ABWK has meant to her: 

It's huge. I can't express how grateful I am that everyone has come here to help. They've all been wonderful. They've all been amazing. These people are so giving and kind.


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The daughter of a Women Build homebuyer sent us this note, complete with illustration:

I like how many people helped mommy build my habitat. I liked when every one hammered. It is ok if you did it wrong. My favorite part of my habitat is my kitchen and my big room. I'm happy [site supervisor] Troy helped my mommy and the other people build my habitat.

The mother also shared her reflections (though without a drawing):

Becoming a Habitat homeowner has changed my life and given a whole new meaning to the word 'home.' I never have to worry about where or when I have to move. My daughter had lead poisoning from our old apartment, but now I don't have to worry about whether my home is safe for her.

When I applied to be a homeowner at the age of 18, I didn't think I had a chance. Being accepted was the best thing that could have ever happened. I am so happy that Habitat for Humanity provided this opportunity to have safe, stable housing for my family!

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The House that Andy Built (Grandville Ave.) is certified LEED platinum! This is the highest level of excellence for sustainable building, and Andy's house is the 5th Habitat Kent home to earn LEED platinum since 2006 from the U.S. Green Building Council.


LEED, which stands for Leaders in Energy & Environmental Design, provides independent verification that a structure was built using strategies that ensure human and evironmental health. Criteria include sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, material selection and indoor environmental quality.


b2ap3_thumbnail_Andys-House-Logo.jpgAndy's House received high marks for location, materials, design and construction, and especially energy efficiency. The four-bedroom home earned an exceptionally high HERS (Home Energy Rating System) rating, meaning it's virtually airtight, which is a primary emphasis in Habitat Kent's green building strategies.


What's most extraordinary in this case, says Construction Director Connie O'Toole, is that Andy's House was built according to ordinary Habitat Kent plans and practices. "We built this house like we build all our houses," she said. "The volunteer crews that worked there really deserve the applause." O'Toole credits the volunteers who spent hours caulking seams to make the home airtight. A little caulk can go a long way.


The House that Andy Built was constructed in 2013 in memory of Andy Angelo, a lifelong supporter of the Roosevelt Park community. More than 425 volunteers helped build the home, which was dedicated last December.


"This was an amazing project from start to finish," said Mary Angelo, Andy's wife. "Sustainability — in design, buildings and neighborhoods — is critical to the health of any city."


We agree! We love it when our homes save both the environment and a family's bank account.

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Bienvenido and Lydia Cardona were looking for a small change. They found a new life. 

The Cardonas were living in a housing project, in an old and cramped apartment where three of their four children had to squeeze into a single bedroom. So they went out looking for a house.


That house search was more successful than they ever dreamed. When they set out, in 1990, they were just looking for a place to rent - but what they found was Habitat, and now, nearly 25 years later, they live in a house that is all their own and completely paid off.


The realtor showing them rental properties suggested they look into Habitat. They did, and they applied. And then they waited.


b2ap3_thumbnail_Cardonas.jpgAt first the Cardonas were told only five applicants could be accepted that year, and they were the sixth. So they kept waiting. Then, to their stunned delight, they were told they were accepted, but funds and volunteers still needed to be identified. So they kept waiting. They drove by the site where their house would be constructed, again and again, dreaming about what it would look like, what it would be like to live there.

Finally, in 1994 - four years after they applied - they moved into their Habitat house in southeast Grand Rapids. "It was like a new life," said Bienvenido. "Everything was new," his daughter added. "It was so big to us. There was so much space. We all were so happy."


Now the family is even happier. They're one of the first Habitat Kent families to complete their mortgage, and they recently celebrated in Habitat Kent's first-ever mortgage-burning ceremony. "We're grateful to God," said Bienvenido. "Our house is completely ours now!"


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We are thrilled to announce that Habitat for Humanity of Kent County has been named 2013 Habitat Affiliate of the Year for the state of Michigan!


This award recognizes a landmark year for us: In celebration of our 30th anniversary in 2013, we completed our final home in the Wealthy Heights neighborhood, and at the same time we launched the Building Blocks Campaign, our initiative to serve 200 families in two years on the West Side of Grand Rapids. We have worked hard to engineer a major change over the past few years, expanding our emphasis from single properties to entire neighborhoods. Both the Wealthy Heights project and the Building Blocks Campaign illustrate this evolution, and we are proud that these efforts have been successful!


We are proudest, however, of all the individuals, churches, and businesses—all the volunteers, donors, and partner families—that inspire our work and make it possible. Thank YOU for your role in a landmark year. We hope you'll celebrate with us!


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Lisa Groendal-Fitchena remembers growing up in the house on the corner. Her family moved there when she was only a year old. Her mother and father, a World War II veteran who is now 92 years old, still live there today. Lisa and her siblings have struggled for years to keep them there, in the place they’ve called home for half a century.


“It’s been a challenge,” says Lisa. “We’ve done as much as we can, with as many resources as we can find, to keep them in this house.”


Mission accomplished. Lisa learned of a new resource in the last year: Habitat’sRepair Corps program. Through a partnership between Habitat for Humanity of Kent County and The Home Depot Foundation, Repair Corps teams were able to make the Groendal home safe and comfortable for Leon and Loretta, Lisa’s aging parents.


Lisa learned about Repair Corps through her uncle, a Vietnam veteran who himself learned about the program at the VA. When she helped her father apply, they were simply hoping for repairs on the furnace (which was the original unit, installed when the house was built in the 1960s). They were stunned by Habitat’s response: in addition to replacing the furnace, the Repair Corps program, in partnership with Team Depot, The Home Depot’s associate-led volunteer force, would build an exterior ramp, replace the windows, add insulation in the basement and overhaul some of the plumbing and electrical work.




“It’s a new house now,” says Lisa. With the ramp, coming and going becomes a lot simpler for her father; and with the new windows and insulation, staying warm in the winter will cost a lot less. This means that he can focus on what he really loves: keeping up with all his veteran friends. “He really loved his planes,” says Lisa, and he loves keeping in contact with veterans of all eras that share that connection.


“We’re so grateful for all these improvements,” says Lisa. “It’s great to see that there are companies and people out there really looking out for the veterans that have served our country.”


Click here to see the full photo album. 

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National Women Build Week 2014 is here!

May 3-11 is a week dedicated to celebrating the achievement of women building homes and building hope with Habitat. Here at Habitat Kent, we have a full week scheduled:

  • May 3 - NWBW 2014 kickoff with a build day at 909 Kensington Ave. SW, the future home of Habitat partner Holly and her two children. The Habitat Young Professionals are partnering with us on this special day. We look forward to swinging a hammer with some dynamic young women in our community!
  • May 8 - NWBW work day #2 at 1214 Rathbone St. SW, the future home of Habitat partner Ericka.
  • May 9 - NWBW work day #3 and Media Day at 1214 Rathbone St. SW. We're thrilled to be joined by Wyoming City Councilwoman Joanne Voorhees, Women Build Steering Committee Chairwoman Jenny Waugh of Rockford Construction and Kentwood Lowe's manager Becky Couture. Join us for a special ceremony from 11 to 11:30 a.m. as these women talk about the impact of Women Build on our cities, families and businesses.

Be sure to check our affiliate Facebook and Twitter — and our dedicated Women Build Facebook — for photos and updates throughout the week.

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Thank you to all our wonderful volunteers!

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Steve Wendt isn't just any old Steve. To ReStore staff, volunteers, and customers, he's "Big Steve." He's certainly earned the name by being such a big part of our ReStore's success—and because of that, he's also earned our Volunteer of the Year award for 2014.


Big Steve has taken over the repair and appliance area of ReStore South and made it his own. He tests all appliances that are donated to the ReStore, repairing anything that isn't up to retail standards. He also fixes up furniture in need of repair, and he ensures that everything in the repair area is neat and tidy and in its place (a small miracle in the ReStore, where things come and go in the blink of an eye!).


b2ap3_thumbnail_Big-Steve-copy.pngIn addition to all this, Big Steve has initiated many special projects that benefit the Kent County South ReStore, including kiosks that he designed and built to display information on Habitat's mission and how to become a Habitat homeowner. Whenever something needs to be invented, built, repaired or refurbished, Big Steve is the one to ask!


Really, there isn't a whole lot that Big Steve doesn't do or hasn't done. He's a Vietnam veteran who served in the Navy; he enjoys gardening and golf and travels to dart tournaments; he volunteers with Love, Inc., the Sunset Retirement Community, and Jenison Public Schools; he's even been featured in a Discovery Channel documentary on storm chasing (because storm chasing, of course, is also one of his hobbies). Steve and his wife, Jeanne, have been married for 43 years, and they have two children.


Steve has been volunteering at the ReStore for two years now, and he says it's a perfect fit that feeds his passion for helping people. We're so blessed to work with Steve. Congratulations!

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b2ap3_thumbnail_GaryMcCourry.pngJazz saxophonist Gary McCourry will collaborate with West Michigan musicians in a concert featuring the music of the legendary baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan and benefitting Habitat Kent. The concert is open to the public, and will be held at Sunday, March 9th at 3:00 PM at Christ Lutheran Church, 2350 44th St SW in Wyoming, Michigan. McCourry will be joined by saxophonists Tom Stansell and Michael Doyle, as well as trumpeter Chris Lawrence, pianist Steve Talaga, drummer Tim Froneck, and bassist Tom Lockwood. Free will offerings will benefit Habitat Kent.


 Gerry Mulligan, arguably the most significant baritone saxophonist in the history of jazz, was also a unique composer and arranger who left a tremendous musical legacy. He was instrumental in the development of the "Cool" or "West Coast" jazz style of the 1950's. His melodies, logically constructed and often filled with humor, are considered miniature masterpieces. This concert will feature Mulligan compositions from his entire career, including unique arrangements for three baritone saxophones and trumpet on such Mulligan gems as "Line for Lyons," "Five Brothers," and "Walkin' Shoes."


Saxophonist Gary McCourry served as a military musician for 23 years while stationed at West Point, performing in some of the U.S. military's premier musical groups. McCourry performed for nine years as alto and soproano saxophonist in the West Point Concert Band and 14 years as baritone saxophonist in the West Point Jazz Knights, retiring as enlisted group leader of the Jazz Knights.


Now residing in Wayland, Michigan, Gary maintains as busy schedule teaching private woodwind lessons and performing in several regional groups, including the Grand Rapids Jazz Orchestra, Truth in Jazz Orchestra, Gull Lake Jazz Orchestra,  River City Big Band, and Kalamazoo Big Band. He also performs occasionally with the Grand Rapids, Battle Creek, and West Michigan symphonies and the Grand Rapids Civic and Circle theaters.

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425 Pleasant Street SW
Grand Rapids, MI 49503