Celebrating 500 Homeowners

Last month we reached a significant milestone – celebrating the home dedication of the 500th Habitat Kent homeowner! Whittley was beaming amidst four generations of her family there supporting her, Habitat Kent staff, volunteers and donors.  

While it was a time to reflect on the organization’s 40-year history, it was more so a celebration of all that Whittley has accomplished on her journey to homeownership. Whittley learned about Habitat Kent almost two years ago through a friend and decided to make her dreams of homeownership a reality for her family. She was highly motivated and set her sights on providing a safe home with more living space and place for her kids to play and grow. 

While working her way through the program, Whittley most enjoyed learning the ins and outs of home maintenance and how to build a home from the ground up, and the financial classes. She formed and cultivated friendships with other homebuyers in the program, creating a great sense of community. At times, it was difficult for her to balance all her responsibilities – being a mother of two, working full–time, and completing the homeownership program – but she was inspired by the opportunity to build wealth and stability for her family. Alongside these dreams, she most looks forward to decorating a home that is hers, hosting gatherings, holidays and birthdays, and gardening in the yard. Knowing that her family will not have to worry about increasing rent and having to move provides a sense of peace.  

Whittley would like to thank all the volunteers and donors, and all her friends and family who supported her through this process. She is excited to own a home to call her own! 

Why I Volunteer: A three-part series of stories from Habitat Kent Volunteers

Each year, over a thousand members of our community dedicate their time, talents, and hearts to helping further our mission of building homes, communities, and hope. They help on our board of directors and committees, on construction sites, at ReStore and community events, and more.  Each of these individuals has their own “why” for showing up and getting involved. We recently sat down with several of them to hear their stories that we’ll be sharing with you on our blog over the coming weeks. We hope you enjoy reading a little bit about them and getting to know their “why”. 

Time, Talent and Treasure: An Interview with Eric Fischer, Tax Principal, BDO USA, LLP & Chair of Habitat Kent Board of Directors 

Eric Fischer (middle of picture above) began volunteering on Habitat Kent construction sites over a decade ago. After several years serving in that capacity, Eric joined our Board of Directors and is currently the Board Chair. Read the conversation between Eric and our Communications Manager, Sarah, to learn about his experience as a board member and why he’s passionate about housing. 


Sarah: What inspired you to get involved with Habitat Kent? 

Eric: I originally got involved with Habitat Kent about twelve years ago after going on a tour with another volunteer and a staff member. I became hooked after seeing different ways that affordable homes can be achieved by putting community around it. I am an accountant by day, but serving on the board of directors lets me use other skills and learn new things. 


Sarah: What’s something you’ve accomplished as a Habitat volunteer that you’re proud of? 

Eric: One of my tasks has been to help organize the board. I’m proud of the fact that the organization has adopted new ways to help people get into affordable homes. Adapting and looking at various ways to achieve homeownership must be part of the solution to our community’s housing shortage. For example, Plaza Roosevelt [Habitat‘s largest project to date, a 17-unit condo association completed in 2019] was messy, hard, and took a lot out of a lot of people, but it showed that we can be creative with solutions. 


Sarah: After twelve years of serving, what keeps you coming back? 

Eric: Housing is a messy and complex issue. However, volunteering with Habitat gives me purpose and I believe housing is the biggest issue right now. When you look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, everyone’s housing needs must be met first. It impacts everything else – your health, education, your ability to provide for your family. 

As for my time on the board, I hope to continue that mission and bring more people to committees and the board so they can see the importance of that work and get involved. 


Sarah: What would you tell someone who is considering getting involved with Habitat Kent? 

Eric: If someone is considering supporting Habitat financially or volunteering, I would tell them to picture one more family having a home and how that can change their lives. It takes time, a lot of different talents and treasure to build a house, so why not use yours to help someone thrive? 

A Celebration to Remember: 40 years and 500 Homeowners

Photo credit left and top right: Mojet Photography

On October 26th, we gathered with over 300 community members at our 40th Anniversary Event celebrating 500 homeowners! It was an incredible evening reflecting on our history and the impact we have made as a community. 

We were uplifted by the many stories shared by and about our founders, volunteers, supporters, and Habitat Kent homeowners. Quanette, a Habitat Kent Homeowner since 2019, shared about her journey to homeownership and said she was moved by the outpouring of support. “The volunteers working on my house didn’t know me, but they were out there every single day. Knowing that people care and are trying to get community back – it touches me a lot.”  

Keynote Speaker Majora Carter, an expert on neighborhood revitalization, inspired us to continue working toward building thriving communities: “Instead of building an idea that you have to move out of your neighborhood to live in a better one, help others see the power of investing in your communities. That is what helps create stability.”  

Dr. Linda Smith emphasized this message. Smith grew up in the third Habitat Kent home and is now Corporate Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at a large global company.  She gave a testimony of hope and opportunity, and encouraged guests to invest in their communities by supporting local organizations like Habitat as her family does. 

We were also honored to recognize the recipients of the 2023 Habitat Kent Awards and thrilled to have so many of them celebrating with us at the event: 

Hope Award – Habitat Kent Founders: Honoring those who emulate hope in our community 

Jonathan Bradford – Inner City Christian Federation, Federal Home Loan Bank; Alistair Brown – Scott Christopher Homes; George Heartwell – Heartwell Mortgage, Mayor – City of Grand Rapids; Dave Jacobs – Home Repair Services; Betty Zylstra – Salvation Army Booth Family Services, Community Food Club 

Stability Award – Van Haren Electric Inc.: Honoring a long-term supporter with roots in our past and a vision for the future

Opportunity Award – Mercantile Bank: Honoring a partner who provides opportunities to give back to their community and opportunities for community growth

It was tremendous being surrounded by so many supporters who care deeply about building a world everyone has a decent, affordable place to call home. We are grateful for what we’ve accomplished together and are incredibly optimistic about the next decade of working together with a passionate and dedicated community! 

Watch Linda and others share their Habitat stories! 

Check out more photos from the celebration! 

Habitat Haiti Affiliate Summit

“We are supporting people not projects.”

This March, I had the opportunity to represent Habitat Kent at the 2018 Habitat Haiti Affiliate Summit. The summit provides an opportunity to experience how tithe support is building strength and stability in Haiti.

Habitat Kent gives a small percentage of our unrestricted funds to Habitat affiliates in developing nations around the globe to meet the need for affordable housing. This “tithe” expands Habitat Kent’s local efforts and provides housing solutions around the globe. Tithing unifies Habitat’s impact beyond languages, borders, and cultures.

Barth, a long-time Habitat Haiti staff member, described the tithe partnership at its core.

“Because of you guys, we are alive.”

Habitat Kent has been a tithe partner with Habitat Haiti for almost 10 years, but this was our first time seeing their work up close.


Haiti was established as an independent nation in 1804 by defeating Napoleon Bonaparte’s army and abolishing slaverythe first nation to do so in the “new world.”

Habitat Haiti was founded in 1984, one year after Habitat Kent began in Grand Rapids, Michigan. For 25 years, they were working in a similar capacity as us—one home, one family at a time.

Then on January 12th, 2010 a devastating earthquake hit Haiti and changed the course of Habitat and the nation forever.

Because of the immense need, Habitat Haiti had to address problems at the basic human level. No longer was building homes the sole focus—but providing access to shelter, water, and food became essential.

For eight years, Habitat Haiti has helped rebuild the country from the ground up.

Homeowner Marieange has lived in the Simon Pelé neighborhood for over 40 years. She partnered with Habitat Haiti to retrofit her home.

Simon Pelé 

Along with three tithe partner representatives and Habitat Haiti staff, I visited the Simon Pelé neighborhood. Located in the capitol city of Port-Au-Prince, Simon Pelé is an area that has housed some of Haiti’s most vulnerable citizens even before the 2010 earthquake.

In Simon Pelé, 30,000 people live in less than 1 sq. km (0.62 mile) area and most earn below $1 per day. There is limited access to clean water, poor infrastructure, and the houses are not strong enough to withstand future natural disasters.

Habitat Haiti’s strategy since 2010 has been to work with community leaders to identify the people most in need. Through building relationships in Simon Pelé, Habitat Haiti is a trusted partner in a community where other organizations are unwelcomed—or that others have overlooked altogether.

Since 2010, Habitat Haiti has reconstructed or retrofitted 660 homes to withstand future environmental events.

We met Marieange, a homeowner who has lived in the neighborhood for over 40 years. Habitat Haiti partnered with her to retrofit and insulate her home to protect against the elements.

 “We don’t have to worry that water is leaking through anymore,” Marieange said.

Through Habitat Haiti’s WASH Program (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene), 2,479 people have been received materials for sanitation and Aquajif water treatment. Improper water treatment has caused severe rashes and bodily issues for children in the neighborhood.

Another way to reach the community is to educate the next generation. We visited a local school where a young student sang a song about hand washing and sanitation.

“Habitat is as if the Lord himself came down and brought a lot of blessings in this community,” said Sampson, the school director.

In response to the needs in Simon Pelé, Habitat Haiti has also supported job training, gender awareness campaigns, installing solar power lamps, road and walkway building, and latrine repair and maintenance.

Josephat is a Habitat homeowner in the community of Santo.


Santo is a community an hour west of Port-au-Prince, just outside the town of Léogâne. The area was the epicenter of the 2010 earthquake where homes, businesses, crops, and infrastructure were devastated.

In 2011 and 2012, Habitat volunteers and local construction workers built 300 new homes as part of the annual President Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Projects.

We visited with Josephat, a homeowner who has expanded his home and planted mango trees in his backyard.

“It’s really important to care for something you get like [a house],”Josephat said. “It’s showing love and respect for a blessing.”

“So I keep it very clean and keep it well maintained to respect the blessing that came my way.”

Like all Habitat revitalization projects, success begins after the hard hats and tools are put away.

The Santo Community Council is a group of men and women who help lead the community. We had an opportunity to sit down with their leadership to learn more about Santo and how they are continuing to improve their quality of life.

Habitat Haiti’s work goes beyond the homes and neighborhoods.

Filling the Gap

Beyond rebuilding homes and communities, Habitat Haiti is also working as an advocate and leader within the country to create more access to housing.

The HOME (Home Ownership and Mortgage Expansion) Program is a partnership between Habitat Haiti, World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) and the Affordable Housing Institute (AHI). The program aims to unlock the potential of the housing market and demonstrate the viability of private/public sector partnerships to reduce the housing deficit in Haiti.

Through micro-loans, providing incentives to market stakeholders, and mortgage experimentation, Habitat Haiti is stimulating the real estate development market. Housing is becoming relevant for market investment, development, and demand, which helps Haitian families access homeownership opportunities.

Land tenure is at the heart of economic growth in Haiti. Unfortunately, one of the long-term challenges of the earthquake was rebuilding land tenure.

People in Haiti have become used to not having access to accurate legal information, so legal ownership of land for housing has become unclear and unstable at best. And without free and clear ownership of land, families could lose their home at any time. Habitat Haiti has created the Haiti Property Law Working Group to address the needs of land tenure and educate citizens and organizations on how to legally acquire, sell, and maintain land ownership.

Habitat Haiti is bringing together experts in housing law  to raise awareness and work toward solutions. They’re creating innovative ways to make information accessible to everyone so people are empowered to make informed legal decisions.

These strategies are part of a long-term effort to change the mindset from a traditional idea of land ownership to a legal and documented system.

Habitat Haiti’s goal is to build 500 new homes in the south by March 2019.

What’s Next for Habitat Haiti?

In the fall of 2016, Hurricane Matthew hit the southern part of Haiti, destroying 200,000 homes and debilitating the agriculture center of the country.

Habitat Haiti has the construction expertise, resources, and skills to sustainably rebuild this community. By educating local builders and working step-by-step with homeowners, Habitat Haiti is helping these communities come back stronger than ever.

Their goal is to build 500 homes in the south of Haiti by March 2019.

But the need is still great and Habitat Haiti is thinking creatively to reach more families affected by the earthquake. They are doing this through distributing house repair kits and educating homeowners on how to retrofit their homes.

Beyond the south of Haiti, Habitat will continue to expand homeownership opportunities near Port-au-Prince, working holistically with the private sector, the legal system, and homeowners to build safe, sustainable, and affordable housing.

Habitat Haiti staff and tithe partners alongside members of the Santo Community Council. (Courtesy of Habitat Haiti)

A Shared Vision

The weight of Haiti’s turbulent history of Western interference, internal struggles, and environmental disasters is matched only by the people’s will to discover creative solutions and take on every challenge with joy, humor, and determination.

Through my experience at the summit, I learned that Habitat’s model is flexible enough to solve systemic problems and strong enough to retain the core attributes of our shared DNA.

I saw firsthand how innovation is spurred on by challenges. Habitat Haiti staff have the passion and commitment to battle injustice and provide people with the basic rights of humanity.

I was thankful to experience the struggle and beauty of Haiti. Even with its complications, it is clear that listening to the community, allowing them to lead, and building sustainable housing will create long-term impact.

Habitat Kent staff, volunteers, donors, and homeowners know the challenges of this great work. Through our tithe partnership, we are holding the hands of our Haitian brothers and sisters so they can innovate and solve problems. We support their foundation so they can build upwards. This goes beyond financial support—this is a spiritual support.

Our destiny is tied together through a vision of a world where everyone has a decent place to live. 

Habitat Haiti has brilliant people working on the most challenging problems a society can face. Habitat Haiti builds to meet basic needs and strives to solve systemic issues. We are honored to be a tithe partner with Habitat Haiti and be a small part of their work to build strength and stability for all Haitians.

And I am thankful to call them friends and partners.


By Luke Ferris, Habitat Kent Communications Specialist 

Click here to learn more about Habitat Haiti.