A Good Year for a Year of Service

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We are thrilled to welcome back two AmeriCorps members from last year, Chris Nolan and Jennie Goldenberg, who will continue their service with the Home Repair team. The mission of Habitat resonates with these two – Chris who learned since graduating with a Linguistics Degree that his heart is in humanitarian non-profit work where he can use his hands, and Jennie who earned a Masters in Social Work and is committed to giving back to her community. Read more about Chris and Jennie and their AmeriCorps experience thus far.

Masked Americorps

On the New Home Construction side, we welcome Lilian Buchangroff from Vermont and Amanda Marley from Pennsylvania. To say we’re thrilled to have Lilian and Amanda join the team would be an understatement. With 100+ weekly volunteers called off, staff are spread thin when it comes to workload and far when it comes to location: we’re currently building downtown, and in West Asheville (Curry Court and New Heights), Arden, and Shiloh. “They have hit the ground running and are a great addition to our team,” shared construction manager Robin Clark.

Asheville native MaryKent Wolff joins us in Volunteer Services, helping Construction, Administration, the ReStore and Deconstruction. After 4 years in Greensboro, she was ready to return to the mountains and the community she loves and explore the non-profit sector.

This year of service will be memorable for sure, but hopefully for reasons other than Covid-19. AmeriCorps service is an opportunity to gain insight into the workings of a successful non-profit, work alongside like-minded people, learn about affordable housing, and developing strong leadership skills. We are honored that Chris, Jennie, Lilian, Amanda, and MaryKent have chosen to spend a year with us!

P.S. – In November, we will be welcoming an AmeriCorps VISTA to our homeowner services team. Stay tuned!

Asheville ReStore Leaders Reflect on Past

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By Klesa Ausherman

The ReStore team is made up of world class, top-notch doers. All day, every day, they’re in constant motion- receiving, cleaning, and sorting donations; moving items to the sales floor (and we’re talking BIG items ya’ll); assisting customers with purchases, hauling and loading items into vehicles- BUSY with a capital B. Store manager Jeff Bridgman and assistant manager Scott Bianchi can be found at any time wherever the most urgent need has sprung up. You’ll rarely find them at their desks, even though there is plenty of work to keep them there. With the advent of a pandemic and the loss of hundreds of weekly volunteers, Jeff and Scott have found themselves with many additional hats to wear- such as standing outside the ReStore entrance to ensure the safety of shoppers and staff by asking to everyone to follow safe shopping guidelines before entering the store. To say the least, management as well as the rest of the ReStore team have found themselves in markedly different working conditions since the ReStore reopened in May.

However, amidst the busyness of the days, when a request was sent out for memories and reflections from the last 30 years of business, Jeff and Scott responded right away.

Scott Fishing

Scott Bianchi (far right) “fishing” (a pre-pandemic photo)

Scott Bianchi joined the Asheville ReStore team in 2007. He began as a Truck Driver, then worked as the Lower Showroom Supervisor before becoming Assistant Manager last year. He also currently serves on the ReStore Societal Impact Committee. Scott is an amazing advocate for his team. He is direct and honest, without an ounce of hot air or fluff to be found in his demeanor. His “what you see if what you get” attitude is respected by his team, as it also comes with a strong work ethic and willingness to get the job done. As a long-time and well-rounded team member, his reflection on the last 30 years is unique.

My memories of the last 13 years at the ReStore are one big blur of forward momentum and growth. But in a nutshell…

The overall memory that I take away is the Local aspect, the sense of belonging to and serving the community of Asheville and greater WNC. From helping someone rehab a house on a shoestring budget to helping an entrepreneur outfit a local restaurant, and then watch it be successful. I’ve sat on church pews we picked up at a local church that found a new life as seating at secular music venues, and many customers have showed me pictures of their home projects that they completed with purchases from the ReStore.  

Also invaluable have been the different perspectives brought by diverse staff, volunteers and homeowners.  We’ve all lived through unprecedented growth in our community, worked through a complete remodel of the store itself, seen the need for affordable housing skyrocket in our area, and grieved over the unexpected passing of volunteers and staff. It’s been a wild and rewarding ride, and 30 years is a huge accomplishment. We all should remember Lew Kraus’s original determination and vision when he started driving around on “trash day” in Asheville and picking up items from the side of the road that he knew could be re-used and sold for Habitat’s benefit!”         ~Scott Bianchi, ReStore Assistant Manager

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Jeff Bridgman, ReStore Manager

Jeff Bridgman has been with the Asheville ReStore since 2014, serving first as Donations Manager before moving into the role of Store Manager last year. One of his team members commented recently “I have never seen someone so thorough in their follow through as Jeff”, and how accurate that is. Nothing slips through the cracks with Jeff overseeing it, and in an operation like the ReStore that is no small feat…especially when half of every day is now spent standing in the sun, reminding customers to follow all safe shopping directions. He could easily have delegated this not very enjoyable task, but he didn’t. Jeff is the epitome of dedication and hard work.

“My memories of the ReStore may be a bit different as I have had the experience of viewing the store as a corporate donor and then as a team member. My first contact with the ReStore came when I was introduced to Paul Reeves while working at Grove Park Inn. Part of my job then was to coordinate donations and pick-ups with Habitat as GPI started a new chapter by giving away furniture and other items instead of selling it to staff or throwing it away. As GPI’s relationship with the ReStore expanded, I got to know several of the drivers and volunteers; some of whom are still here today. I also developed a regular phone conversation and relationship with Piper Parker, the ReStore Scheduling Coordinator.

Over time, I learned more about Habitat from staff, from working on the GPI-sponsored Habitat house, and volunteering a few times with Home Repair. (Chipping lead paint off of a house is an experience I won’t forget!)  I remember visiting the ReStore when the lower showroom was still an area where cars pulled into. I thought that was crazy!

When I moved to south Georgia for work, I thought that would be the end of my association with the ReStore. I was wrong.

I remember the excitement I felt when I had the opportunity to return — as the Donations Manager, and that is where my real education about the ReStore began. The past six plus years have seen a lot of changes for me personally and for the affiliate. The one thing that has remained the same through it all is the unwavering belief and determination that everyone here shares for the mission, vision, and values of AAHH. We may all not agree on how to accomplish the goals sometimes, but everyone here is committed to making the community and the world a better place and that to me separates the ReStore from any place else I have ever worked.”      ~Jeff Bridgman, ReStore Manager

Some say the true test of leadership is how well you function in a crisis. But, perhaps the greater reflection of leadership quality is how well the entire team functions in a crisis. The past several months have arguably been some of the most difficult for the ReStore team- not for lack of sales, but rather for lack of man power as volunteers were asked to stay home due to the pandemic. Witnessing the whole ReStore team functioning with strength, determination, and positivity without 140+ volunteers each week is a true testament to the quality of leadership at the helm.  Just as these leaders have looked back and reflected on their years at the ReStore, it is certain that there will be a day in the future when others will bring reflection and deep gratitude for the leadership Jeff and Scott have provided during this most challenging time.

#teamRestore.

After All These Years

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Susan Diehn Old Store Original

Volunteer Susan Diehn in the Biltmore Ave. store

By Klesa Ausherman

Susan Diehn walked into her first volunteer shift with the Asheville Habitat Home Store on a Monday in 1994. She had inquired about the volunteer opportunity after a friend who knew of Susan’s love for vintage items recommended it to her. Howard Trimble, the Home Store Manager at the time, quickly invited Susan to join the volunteer team. It wasn’t long after she started that the Tuesday Volunteer Manager position became open, and Susan stepped up to the job. “I was the first woman manager,” Susan remembers, “all the rest were retired men.” Of course, the dynamic has since changed, and more and more women have joined Susan in volunteering throughout the ReStore.

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Susan, second from R, alongside fellow volunteers in the Meadow Rd. store

Twenty six years later, Susan can still be found at the upper register on Tuesdays, chatting with regular customers and welcoming new customers to the store. “My tenure with Habitat has been twenty six years of amazing experiences. Knowing our repeat customers and getting to know customers who are new to our store is always fun for me. I always tell them it is the best place in town to shop!” And customers equally enjoy chatting with Susan and learning from her depth of knowledge on all things ReStore.

As much as Susan enjoys interacting with customers, it’s someone else who keeps her commitment to the ReStore strong. “The reason I keep coming every week is knowing that maybe I am helping a family have a positive new beginning. I love working with the homeowner families, getting to know them and seeing the excitement and pride they have about building and owning a home for their family. That experience has been such a joy to me over the years. Times have changed, for sure, but the mission is still the same. Even in these times of the pandemic, it has truly been a pleasure for me to be  a part of this fabulous organization.”

And of course Susan isn’t alone in this sentiment, and she recognizes the like minds around her. “The whole atmosphere of the ReStore is positive and the staff and volunteers are here because they want to be a part of something positive for our community. Plus, the staff are very supportive of the volunteers.” Susan fondly recalls the leaders she has served with over the years, many of whom have since retired. The man behind it all, Lew Kraus, left quite an impression on Susan. “I have always admired Lew Kraus for having the vision to start this wonderful piece of Habitat for Humanity in our area. He was able to bring the vision of a thrift store to benefit the community and build affordable homes for families living in substandard housing, to self-sufficient reality. Through his efforts the tiny store downtown evolved into the large warehouse we are working from now.”

Jay Sloan, ReStore Manager from 1998 to 2014 she says, “He was like my brother. He treated everyone fairly. He brought a new energy to the operation and really made the store grow. He was instrumental in getting the big warehouse up and going. It was a sad time for the staff and volunteers when he made the decision to retire. He surely is missed.”

It would be impossible to reflect back on 26 years of service with the Habitat ReStore and not recall some of the amazing donations that have come in. Susan remembers, “The wonderful and unusual things that have come through our store from our fabulous donors, always surprise me. We’ve had cut gemstones, a baby elephant made of leather, and the horse and buggy. All were quite a spectacle, and sold quickly.” Though Susan didn’t take the horse and buggy home, she does recall the many items that have come home with her over the years. “I have purchased so many wonderful things, I can’t even think of the best. I’ve purchased beds, desks, many chairs, tables, couches, fabrics, dishware, artwork, gemstones, and rugs.”  She’s noticed, “Asheville locals and businesses have become very interested and generous with their donations. Our customers can’t wait to find a treasure for their homes.”

In a time when over 20% of millennials have changed jobs in the past year, Susan Diehn’s  twenty six years of volunteer service with Habitat for Humanity stands out as rare. If anything, after all these years, her engagement is only increasing. Susan even capped her quarter century of service with a mission trip to Ethiopia with Asheville Habitat earlier this year. And with her easy to approach attitude, constant smile, and consistent humility, she certainly sets a high bar.  Asheville Habitat ReStore staff continued to be inspired by her commitment to the organization, and look forward to serving alongside her into the future.  Three cheers to Susan Diehn! Hip, hip, hooray!

A ReStore Reflection

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I was hooked on the Home Store after my first shift and committed to several Saturdays each month. Two years later, a new staff position had been created and it was suggested that I apply. I wasn’t looking to make a move, I enjoyed teaching and loved the high school environment, but the opportunity to be a part of this mission was far too strong of a pull. My time in the Home Store, now the ReStore, yielded far more than I ever expected.

A Story Worth Telling

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Covid-19 precludes us from hosting a big event and sale for the 1-year anniversary of the Weaverville store and the 30-year anniversary of the Asheville ReStore. But we know there will be many more milestones to celebrate going forward. Please take a moment to read the Asheville Habitat ReStore story.

Evolution of a Secondhand Store

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Thirty years ago, Asheville Habitat opened a used furniture store on Biltmore Avenue in downtown Asheville. Today, the affiliate operates two successful stores, is one of the highest performing ReStores in the country, and is annually recognized as #1 Used Furniture Store in WNC.

Reckoning with Race and Housing

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As an organization that condemns structural racism in our housing system, Asheville Habitat will not transfer this deed to another owner with this abhorrent language. We took the time to learn from the Register of Deeds and work with Pisgah Legal Services to draft new deed language that nullifies the racist restrictions. This is a small step in the right direction and we hope it inspires other property owners to do the same.

Finding Purpose and Passion through Service

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By Klesa Ausherman

Finding your very own dream team is, well, what dreams are made of! But that’s exactly what happened when Emily Stevens signed up for a year of service with Asheville Habitat.  As a YAV (Young Adult Volunteer) working closely with the Construction Services Volunteer Manager, Emily frequently found herself on Habitat construction job sites. Alongside two other “Year of Service” AmeriCorps members, and with no former construction experience, Emily began to learn about the work that happens on Habitat job sites. Watching AmeriCorps members learn construction skills, and then lead groups of volunteers doing the very projects they had just learned how to do, began to stir up a desire in Emily to learn those skills as well. She remembers, “As I grew closer with Christina and Lawrence and got to see what their work entailed, my interest in learning those skills for myself grew. I was already attuned to a year of service with the YAV program, so doing a second volunteer year wasn’t a hard sell. Ultimately I realized that I had grown to love the Construction team and saw the heart they put into their work to make affordable home building and repair a reality for people. That was a team I wanted to be a part of.”

Emily Stevens First Day On Site As Construction AmeriCorps

Emily Stevens on her first day on site as an AmeriCorps Service Member. 8.24.16

Emily signed up for her second year of service through Asheville Habitat’s AmeriCorps program, and was officially part of the Habitat construction team.  Without any official building or construction experience, Emily remembers being a little nervous during her first days on the job site. “I didn’t want to be a hindrance to anyone on site. I wished that I just automatically knew every step to building a house so I could plug volunteers into each task according to their skill level as easy as my coworkers made it look and not have to constantly ask them. But then the more I did myself, especially as a newbie, the easier it was to explain to someone else who didn’t know what they were doing since I had just been in that position. And then when they understood it, I was so satisfied.”

As with many recent college graduates who choose to serve with AmeriCorps, Emily was searching for what was next for her. Although she wasn’t sure specifically what to expect from her first AmeriCorps year, she began to discover aspects of her work on the construction site that were not just ok, but genuinely rewarding. “My confidence speaking in front of groups, commanding attention, and orchestrating the flow of daily projects grew throughout the year and that sort of leadership was new and exciting. I also really liked the physical component of my job and learned a whole new appreciation for manual labor. The world of building was brand new to me so my learning curve was quite steep. But I knew I wanted to acquire a set of “hands-on” skills that could be useful throughout my life.”

When her service year with AmeriCorps came to a close, she began to reflect on her experience, and instead of wanting to move on for the next thing, she found herself wanting more time with the work she was already doing. “I was beginning to see that I was just skimming the surface as far as the construction projects I had learned and I wanted to get my hands dirty again.”

Emily 9.14.18

Emily 9.14.18

So she signed up for a second year! “I realized I was really happy with everything I had been doing. All around me I was talking with friends who were considering what their next “move” was, whether it was grad school, or the first job out of grad school, or they still didn’t know. Everyone was thinking about something different than what they were already doing. But when I reflected on my time at Habitat, I realized that I didn’t hate going to work every day, in fact it was the opposite- I was excited to see what was next. I was in a whole new learning environment that kept me on my toes. Every day looked different, so there was never the worry of boredom. This was contrary to everything I was hearing about ‘work’. I decided to do a second year of AmeriCorps service to further my home building education with the hopes of maybe a position opening up at the organization somewhere down the road.”

And it just so happened- her luck panned out. As her second service year with AmeriCorps came to a close, Asheville Habitat decided to hire a fourth Construction Supervisor. It was the next step she was waiting for. Emily entered into a supervisor apprentice position, focusing on the finishing side of home construction while also building her knowledge and skill at framing, until she was able to start supervising her own Habitat house from the ground up. Now, after almost 2 years as a full-time Construction Supervisor, Emily will break ground on her first independently supervised house, the Women Build House, this month! “The transition has been very smooth throughout my 5 years at the organization, from administrative-based work my first “Year of Service”- developing relationships with the core volunteers and learning the ins and outs of affordable housing, to two years as an AmeriCorps Crew Leader on the job site increasing my repertoire of projects I can lead, to now putting it ALL together and starting my own house!”

After five years with Asheville Habitat – 3 years of service and 2 years of site supervision – Emily is quick to recommend the AmeriCorps program. “If you have any interest in an AmeriCorps position, even just an inkling to learn what the job might entail, diving in for a full year is the best way to know if it could turn into a desirable career for you.”

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Emily with a group of volunteers

And of course, she doesn’t hesitate to recommend Asheville Habitat’s AmeriCorps program: “As long as you’re eager to learn, being an AmeriCorps member with Asheville Habitat is a great way to learn about the “Habitat way” while really making an impact on our community. There is so much to learn about the affordable housing crisis and how Habitat plays a huge role in giving people a hand-up towards a stable future. You get to hear so many stories working with future homeowners and volunteers, it becomes easy to see how much of a family we all are.”

From the volunteers, to the staff, to the future homeowners- through her years of service with AmeriCorps, Emily found the work she loves and a dream team to build with.

“Construction work is definitely a skill, but more than anything it just takes stepping back and thinking about that tool or task to see how you could go about constructing it. Seeing the confidence build in someone throughout the course of the day or week is one of the most rewarding skills that still makes my day.”

Still Working Towards Racial Equity

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Asheville Habitat works every day to close the racial homeownership gap and expand access to stable and healthy homes. For 37 years, Asheville Habitat has built dozens of thriving diverse neighborhoods defying the lies behind residential segregation. Successful Habitat mortgages disprove the myths that justify “redlining” and predatory lending. Most important, we have empowered families to build a shelter against other forms of disparity.

When Quarantine Comes, Things Go

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When asked if they had fun reminiscing as they went through all their things, Charlie laughed and suggested I halt my inquiry unless I wanted Tricia back in the garage removing things from the donation pile! She confirmed they had lots of fun traveling down memory lane, and that some items were easier to let go than others.