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 Letter To Our Volunteers

To close out National Volunteer Appreciation Week, Asheville Habitat Executive Director Andy Barnett has a message for our volunteers.

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.

Celebrating our volunteers!

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Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity is recognizing milestones and thanking volunteers during Volunteer Appreciation Week (April 20-25). Though this year amidst Covid-19, it means ZOOM coffee breaks, mailed rather than hand-delivered cards, and gifts presented at a later date.

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.

Businesses Step Up to Support Affordable Housing

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By Beth Russo

“Giving is not just about making a donation. It is about making a difference.” ~ Kathy Calvin

We love working with our business community. Seeing our local businesses – both the large ones with multiple worldwide locations and the small ones located in downtown Asheville– step up to be part of the housing solution in our community brings us great joy.

Local businesses know that our entire community is stronger when residents – and employees – have decent and affordable housing. We see this throughout the year at Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity, but never more so than when building the Business Bungalow house.

Our 5th Business Bungalow, built in partnership with our local businesses, is currently under construction in our Candler community, Curry Court. The future homeowner, Belinda, will be unlocking her front door before summer begins.

Belinda has worked for Mission Hospital since 1999, and has been raising her son in a 1-bedroom apartment as a single mother. Like many people in our community, she got creative and Belinda turned a converted carport into a makeshift second bedroom, using a sheet for a door. This apartment had one other undesirable feature –a $400 plus heating cost during the winter months.

A sheet is not a door, and Belinda needs a permanently affordable option. She’s grateful to the businesses who agree – and are investing in her future home through sponsorships.

Our business community sees the benefits of providing funds – and volunteers – to support this work. Companies use this partnership to create meaningful employee engagement, to get team members to know each other outside of the office – and to be part of the larger community effort addressing a real local problem.

The financial support that local businesses provide – whether as a Housing Champion, Blueprint Sponsor or at a higher level – helps make Habitat homes affordable. Every dollar adds up to an affordable Green Built home that Belinda will purchase, with a monthly mortgage (and energy cost), that fits her budget. Asheville Habitat is proud to collaborate with our business community to make affordable homeownership within reach for more local families.

If you are interested in joining this diverse group of businesses, please contact me (Beth Russo) at brusso@ashevillehabitat.org for more information. Thank you!

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/.

 

 

Volunteer Team Makes Big Single-Day Impact

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By Ariane Kjellquist, with contributions from Sydney Monshaw

Like most of our Home repair clients, Ms. Priscilla McDowell is an aging adult in need of home improvements that improve access and safety. Our Home Repair team recently tackled the job of completely rebuilding two large, crumbling and unsafe porches at Ms. McDowell’s home. This included removing the existing structures and building a smaller deck and landing with less steep stairs. Thanks to a crew of four volunteers from Beach Hensley Homes, the project was completed ahead of schedule. “I was planning to spend at least a week at this job,” shared Project Supervisor Sydney Monshaw. “With Beach Hensley’s help we were able to complete this project in just three days!”

Their volunteers arrived on Wednesday to the old decks already removed and footers for the new one ready to go. In the first hour, the deck was framed and the posts were set. By lunch break everything had decking, the stairs were hung, and handrails had been started. By the time the Beach Hensley crew left at 4:45pm (staying later than needed because they wanted to get it done) they had the entire porch completed, with the exception of one stair tread and three kick plates. And that work was only outstanding because they ran out of materials! With just a handful of very small things to finish the following day, this 5-day job was done in just 2 ½ days!

It’s not surprising that a team of professional contractors work more quickly and efficiently than a staff supervisor and a few volunteers with less or no construction experience. Habitat is used to working with volunteers that run the gamut from never having used a saw to trade professionals that could do the work in their sleep. But this crew brought added-value in the form of knowledge sharing. They took a minute here and there to explain why they were making certain choices. Sydney said, “As the supervisor of this jobsite, I am grateful for their efficiency, skill, and knowledge. As a member of the greater Asheville community, I am grateful for their generosity and willingness to give back. Ms. McDowell is not only safer because of them, she’s also proud and excited about her new back porch.”

Home Repair for low-income homeowners is a significant and growing community need. The population of aging adults in Buncombe County continues to grow, and one of the best ways to help residents live with more safety, security and dignity as they age, is to help them remain in the homes they already own. To try to keep up with demand, we have grown our repair program by adding a second supervisor and a second work van, and we continue to utilize three AmeriCorps members. We increased our goal mid-year from 60 to 70 jobs. Additionally, we manage “Aging in Place”, a sort of program-within-a-program, that serves clients that come to us through a partnership with The Council on Aging. And this year, we did a community project with Poder Emma, in which we served 25 families in one day, and trained community members to serve another 75 with security and safety upgrades.

As you can see, being able to complete a project in half the time is a substantial win for a program with aggressive goals and a team stretched thin. If your business of trade professionals can spare just one day to volunteer on a Habitat Home Repair project, we would LOVE to have you! Asheville Habitat has committed to serving another 1,000 families within 10 years and 600 will be through Home Repair. Be part of our success story! To learn more, call 828.210-9383 or email swallace@ashevillehabitat.org.

 

 

 

The Service Experience – Thus Far

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This reflection was written by AmeriCorps Member Thomas Brennan. He works on Asheville Habitat’s New Home Construction team.

“This first quarter has been an amazing experience for me as I worked on all of the houses in our Candler neighborhood (Curry Court), which includes 4 single homes and 8 townhomes. In these past few months I started learning all of the construction skills I want to learn and use as I develop my career – including wall framing, stucco, flooring, painting, roof installation, insulation and more.

I have made more 80-year old friends than I ever would have thought! And I have worked with, and learned about, some of the amazing future homeowners as they slowly picked away at their “sweat equity” hours.

My time so far has been meaningful to me in a few ways, the first being it has been extremely beneficial in helping me start to understand what type of field I may want to go into. One of the reasons I wanted to take on this experience was to see if I enjoyed doing construction and to see how the whole project was run. I have learned so much, and I have also gathered priceless tips, stories, and advice from my many volunteer friends.

The second reason is that I have learned so much about affordable housing and our community. I was not aware of the lack of affordable housing and the unfortunate reasons behind it. This new knowledge has pushed me to further help our future homeowners, and made me start thinking about ways to address the problem and consider alternative solutions. As I drive around and explore new areas I am now always considering prices of land/buildings and what could be turned into housing alternatives.

The third reason my service so far has been meaningful, is hearing how thankful the future homeowners are, and how their lives will be changed. What they may not realize is I am just as thankful for them and their stories. They will continue to stay with me and influence my life as well.”

Want to hear from other AmeriCorps members who have worked with us in the past? Watch this video.