A Volunteer’s Memorial

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By Klesa Ausherman

If you’ve visited the Asheville ReStore lately, you may have noticed two handsome, custom built flower boxes that recently came to live at the ReStore. Their outward appearance may suggest nothing more than a tasteful new addition to the Asheville Habitat property- they are notably well built, with custom woodwork, attractive proportions, and overflowing with botanical potential. However, their real value lies not in their timeless appearance, but in what and who they represent to the Asheville Habitat family.

Being a core Asheville Habitat volunteer in many ways resembles being part of a large extended family. Hundreds of volunteers showing up to serve every week for years, even decades, in some ways mirrors the consistency of certain family members in our lives. Like blood in a family, the commonality of purpose brings Habitat family members together. Inevitably, this consistency of showing up together for a common purpose forges friendships and builds relationships that are rich and meaningful. For staff and volunteers alike, the benefits of joining the Habitat family are deep and wide. And naturally, when it comes time to say goodbye, it’s never easy.

Mike Burke

Mike Burke

Mike Burke was the picture of familial consistency in the almost eight years he volunteered with the Asheville ReStore. He brought fun, laughter, and commitment to his Wednesday shifts in the bookstore- and he never showed up without a new joke for shoppers and staff.  With an outgoing, comedic charm, it may have come as a surprise to some that he was a master history teacher for the majority of his professional life. After many years of teaching, he enjoyed retirement with his wife, Asheville native Marthann Coleman, travelling the world and leading groups of students on international adventures. After losing his wife in 2009, he joined Asheville Habitat’s team of volunteers in a new season of volunteer service and philanthropy. It was during this season that Mike commissioned a local craftswoman to custom build two large wooden flower boxes, reminiscent of the patio gardens his wife would plant and tend each year. And although Mike grieved deeply at the loss of his bride, his new volunteer commitments opened doors for new friendships to bloom.

The Asheville ReStore bookstore was among several nonprofit recipients of his time, and they were the perfect pair. The bookstore benefited from his organization and detailed attention, and Mike delighted in meeting  customers and developing friendships with staff and fellow volunteers. He made fast friends with a few gentlemen on the ReStore Appliance Repair team, and their stand up coffee break in the bookstore became a weekly ritual. A well-read, enthusiastic lover of music, Mike was at home in the bookstore among new friends and even some family, too.

Kit Rains, Mike’s daughter and Development Director at Asheville Habitat, remembers looking forward to her break on Wednesdays to go visit her dad in the bookstore. It was a relationship dear to her heart, one which she says, distilled down to her dad’s greatest qualities- “He was one of the finest examples of his generation”, she says. “He was fair-minded, he was truly charitable, he was very practical, and he loved his family.”

Perhaps at the heart of each volunteer’s choice to serve, is a desire for equality. Kit’s description of her father substantiates this. “My dad was one of the most fair-minded people I’ve ever known; he always listened to both sides of an issue. He felt that Habitat treated people with respect in recognizing the need for a stable, affordable home, but also requiring people to get down to work and pay for it. There was a real practical fairness to him that I think was characteristic of his generation and really resonated with Habitat’s program.” Among the Asheville ReStore staff, Mike’s sense of humor, engaging personality, and his willingness to help out wherever he was needed still stand out as memorable qualities.

When it came time to say goodbye to Mike last August after a 6-month battle with bladder cancer, he made sure to do things his way. Always practical, Mike organized his own memorial service to be held at the weekly Asheville Beer and Hymn night, an event he routinely attended with his Habitat friends. All Habitat staff and volunteers were invited to come have a final beer on him, celebrate his life, and toast him into what comes next.

Mike was a beloved member of the Asheville Habitat family. His beautiful flower boxes, now surrounded by rose bushes between the ReStore and the administrative offices, are a constant reminder of how deep and wide this family really is. The boxes remind us of Mike- his joy, his humor, his incredible character. They remind us of the hundreds of volunteers who show up weekly to serve. And they remind us of the entirety of the volunteer family who has served with us over the past three decades, who have made Habitat’s mission of stable, affordable housing for everyone who needs it, an ever growing reality in our Buncombe County community.

A Safe Return

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At the Asheville ReStores, the safety and health of our customers and team is number one priority. Read about the ways we are working to safely get everyone back to their treasure hunt and back to the mission of building affordable housing in Buncombe County!

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.

Overcoming the Distance

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Happy National Volunteer Appreciation Week!! We recognize all our volunteers who have served and continue to serve remotely. Distance can’t stop our volunteers!!

Virtual Connections

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The routine of showing up to swing a hammer or lay flooring alongside a community of volunteers, staff, and future homeowners is for many Habitat volunteers as ingrained in their daily life as their weekly trip to the grocery.  As if the cancellation of all volunteer participation on jobsites wasn’t interruption enough for our volunteers, there was another meaningful tradition within this weekly routine that was interrupted as well.

Habitat Epitomizes Margaret Mead’s Theory

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By Ariane Kjellquist

My Anthropology degree and seemingly-unrelated career as a non-profit marketing professional intersect in this quote by American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”  The innovative idea of “partnership housing” developed in the mid 1970’s by farmer Clarence Jordan and eventual Habitat for Humanity founders Millard & Linda Fuller, epitomizes Mead’s theory. The concept conceived by a small group of people with a shared vision took root and 29 million people have since achieved strength, stability and independence through safe, decent and affordable shelter. Habitat for Humanity has undoubtedly changed the world.

Right here in our own community, Asheville Area Habitat has helped some 1,700 adults and children improve their housing and build a better future since our inception in 1983. In fact, today (February 11, 2020) marks our 37th Anniversary! We were the first Habitat affiliate in North Carolina; today there are more than 60.

So when the world’s problems seem too overwhelming, when you think four hours of volunteer service or a $10 donation, isn’t enough, think again. A few thoughtful, committed citizens created Habitat for Humanity on Koinonia Farm outside of Americus, Georgia more than four decades ago. In 1983, a small group founded Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity (named WNC Habitat for Humanity at the time). The photo above is our original Board of Directors! ALL OF YOU – our Asheville Habitat volunteers, donors, sponsor, advocates, and ReStore supporters – are what keep changing the world for the better. Thank you and Happy Anniversary y’all!

If you’ve been on a hiatus and would like to engage with us again, or perhaps for the first time, please click here to learn how you can help.

Nonprofit Collaboration Offers a Fresh Perspective on Volunteering

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By Klesa Ausherman

The social justice arena can be an intimidating one to enter. The intricacies of policy can feel out of our grasp, and the feeling that the battle is always fought up-hill can be a deterrent to rolling up our sleeves and joining the effort. These apprehensions are more easily overcome when we hear the experiences and perspectives of a long-time social justice veteran; someone like Cassie Dillon.

Cassie is the current Asheville Habitat Board Chair, member of numerous Habitat committees, Asheville ReStore core volunteer – and Buncombe County Guardian Ad Litem. Her connection and commitment to both organizations has created the opportunity for some beautiful collaborations. The first is the 1821 ReStore Shopper Program, which you can read about here. And the most recent is the Guardian Ad Litem Association’s Children’s Assistance Fund, the recipient of this month’s ReStore Register Round Up program. We sat down with Cassie to learn a little more about the Guardian Ad Litem Association, their Children’s Assistance Fund, and her volunteer work over the years.

Cassie has been volunteering with Habitat for Humanity for 16 years- long before her retirement from a career in Computer Information Systems. She began with AAHH because it was the only place she could volunteer on Saturdays. Six years ago, she completed a six-week course and received a court appointment as a Buncombe County Guardian Ad Litem (GAL). Since then, she has represented 21 children in Department of Social Services non-secure custody in court. Her  responsibility is to speak for, and in the best interest of children who are receiving DSS in-home, kinship or foster care services.

Five years ago several GALs joined forces to create the Guardian Ad Litem Association of Buncombe County to  provide enrichment activities for children they serve through the Children’s Assistance Fund. This volunteer-funded initiative provides activities such as summer camp and piano lessons to children who otherwise would not be able to afford them. This summer, two young adults who attended the YMCA’s Camp Watai as counselors in training under GAL auspices will become full-fledged summer camp counselors – a positive and life-changing experience for  kids who have spent a good deal of their lives in foster care.

As a Guardian Ad Litem, Cassie does research on her families, writes reports to support her recommendations,  attends court hearings, and visits the children and families she serves at least 1-2 times each month. She admits this type of volunteering can sometimes be emotional and difficult, but also very rewarding. “Volunteering is very enriching,” she says. “If your focus is just economic, that’s a pretty narrow focus. I would encourage people to have a broader focus, and volunteering certainly fulfills that. It keeps you grounded and makes you want to be more aware of the impact of policies on people lives because you see firsthand what these policies do and how devastating they can be.”

Through volunteering with these organizations Cassie has become closely acquainted with our social systems, and comments “It’s so clear that our social safety net has a lot of holes in it. When people make minimum wage and are living in miserable conditions, it’s just a really hard life. Things happen, but I have yet to meet a family where I felt the parents were bad people.” When asked how she remains encouraged and stays committed despite the circumstances that she regularly witnesses, she replied “I had a really  disturbing case with child abuse that actually ended well. Everybody makes mistakes, everybody screws up. I think that’s the other thing you learn- humanity is very flawed, so just expect it and don’t be judgmental.”

This could perhaps be one of the most encouraging statements ever made about volunteering with social justice organizations: through volunteering, we can be witness to the resolutions, to all of the positive outcomes, rather than just the negative statistics describing human error in the world around us. We don’t have to ring our hands and pull out our hair because of the constant bombardment of negative news and statistics; we can be present, part of the solutions and good outcomes by volunteering with our local community social justice organizations. Turns out, volunteering is as important for our health as our daily multi-vitamin and serving of greens. Thank you Cassie, for this awesome revelation! (That must be your secret to beauty as well!)

A good resource on our local social justice organizations is the WNC Social Justice Advocacy Guide found at:  https://wncsocialjustice.guide/. Ask yourself, “If I could serve one cause and do some good before my time on this planet is up, what would it be?”  Then, go see who’s already out there working and link arms!

The January ReStore Register Round Up proceeds will benefit the Guardian Ad Litem Association’s Children’s Assistance Fund. Learn more about GAL at https://gala-bc.org/.

 

 

Serving Country and Community

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On Veterans Day and every day, we are grateful for the veterans on our staff and in the ranks of our volunteers who serve our community every day.

Behind the Scenes at the Asheville ReStore

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If you’ve visited the Asheville ReStore, you’ve probably noticed we aren’t your average thrift store. With two levels, and around 27,000 sq. ft. of retail floor space, we more closely resemble a Home Depot than a neighborhood second hand store. Our free pick-up service for larger items and convenient donation drop-off lane keep our showrooms full of home building supplies, appliances, cabinet sets, and home furnishings- items that, for the most part, you won’t find in smaller thrift stores.

With a large showroom full of every type of furniture and appliance you can imagine, it makes sense that our process for receiving donations is also quite different from your average thrift store. Instead of going directly to the sales floor in “as is” condition, items dropped off at the Asheville ReStore are sorted and taken to their respective processing stations for inspection, cleaning, testing and repairing before being delivered to the sales floor. With over 15,000 sq. ft. of floor space dedicated specifically to donation processing, our meticulous process of receiving donations is part of what sets the Asheville ReStore apart from other area thrift stores, and ensures quality products are delivered quickly and efficiently to our sales floor.

Sorting Area

We have an amazing team of dedicated volunteers who assist our staff in making this process possible. They show up multiple times every week to fulfill very specific parts of the process.  Whether it’s receiving, sorting, cleaning, or repairing donated items, these volunteers keep our stores stocked with quality, clean, and functioning products. Let us introduce our team to you!

Pam and Michelle

Michelle Ender is the matron of our housewares station. She, alongside volunteers, ensure that all linens and dishware get the attention they need before heading up to stock our shelves. Several days each week you will find Michelle’s dishwasher, washer and dryer running nonstop to make sure the housewares section is stocked with clean, quality items.

On the far side of the housewares station lives the small electronics station. Skip Stansell, Jim Perkerson, and Al Gribble are the small electronics gurus.  Each lamp, clock, rice cooker, crockpot, and every other small electronic item with a plug gets tested and, if possible, repaired in this station. Every item then receives a sticker verifying it was tested, and stating our 30 day guarantee policy. Can we just say how grateful we are to these guys?!  Don’t you love purchasing a pre-used electronic item at a thrift store knowing that it’s been tested and comes with a 30-day guarantee?  That’s a bonus at Habitat and unique for a thrift store.

Small Appliances Team

To the other side of the housewares station lies the large appliance testing and repair station. Each stove, oven, dishwasher, washer and dryer that comes into the ReStore also gets tested, and repaired if possible, before going to the sales floor.  On Tuesdays and Thursdays you will find David Garver, Gary Stefan, Richard Stiles, Arnold Willen, and Bruce Tettemer diligently testing, repairing, and delivering large appliances to the sales floor. Those that can’t be repaired are stored in the basement to provide a supply of parts for future large appliances that may need them.

Large Appliance Team

Books are another item that get meticulous attention at the Asheville ReStore. We have volunteers dedicated to sorting and researching each book title that comes in before being placed on shelves. So that if a rare title comes in, we know about it and can share it with you!

Of course there are always items that don’t make the cut or meet our standards for what is salable. But even then we do our best to minimize what we send to the landfill. All of the metals that can’t be sold eventually head to the scrap yard, but not before Warren Reif puts hands on each and every piece. He is a pretty cool guy, by the way. In addition to being an avid macro photographer and Arduino creator/maker, he volunteers to sort each piece of metal destined for the scrap yard by type.

Warren Reif

This reduces our waste as much as possible, and creates a revenue stream that supports our mission.  And next door to Warren’s sorting station you’ll find John Harvin regularly working away to make sense of all the random hardware pieces that come in throughout the week.  John gives generously of his time to both of our locations.

John Harvin

This is only a small sample of all the amazing volunteers who contribute their time and effort each week at the Asheville ReStore.  There are many others we hope to highlight in the future.  At the Asheville ReStore, we truly are giving your gently loved home goods a new life.  Living up to our name, we actually restore your generously donated items to extend their life cycle and meet our customers’ needs.  Whether you shop, donate, or volunteer at the ReStore, you are part of a process that not only gives new life to old items, but ultimately gives a new start at life to many families in our area.

Grand Opening Set for New ReStore

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Following a 9:30am ribbon cutting, we will officially open the doors to shoppers at 10am for the Weaverville ReStore Grand Opening celebration on Saturday, August 24th.  The community is invited to celebrate, shop, and enjoy give-aways, refreshments, and live radio (98.1).

Located in the Weaverville Crossings shopping plaza (61 Weaver Blvd.) in the space previously occupied by ACE Hardware, our new ReStore will offer much of the same merchandise as the flagship Asheville store: gently used furniture, housewares, appliances, building supplies, art and more. There will be a donation drop-off lane and plenty of parking. Hours will be 10am-6pm, Tuesday through Saturday.

“We are thrilled to join the Weaverville community and look forward to providing the northern part of the county with another source of affordable home goods, as well as a place for people to donate building materials, appliances, furniture and more,” added Susan Haynes, Weaverville ReStore Manager. Haynes, previously Assistant Manager of the Asheville ReStore, is joined by Eric Tamila, Weaverville ReStore Assistant Manager. Tamila is a long-time supervisor from the Asheville Habitat ReStore. Two ReStore associates will round out the small team.

One of the first Habitat ReStores in the country, the Asheville Habitat ReStore opened in 1990 on Biltmore Avenue where it remained for thirteen years. After a major renovation of the donated Pearlman Carpet warehouse, the ReStore settled into its existing site at 31 Meadow Road near Biltmore Village in 2003. Today, the Asheville Habitat ReStore is a leader among 900+ Habitat ReStores nationwide, garners annual recognition as best Used Furniture Store (non-profit) in the Mountain Xpress’ Best of WNC, and has become a destination for shoppers in Buncombe County and beyond.

Please join us in Weaverville on Saturday, August 24th to celebrate the much-anticipated opening of our second ReStore!