Diane Bryson’s Comeback Story

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The epitome of a “when life gives you lemons” story, Asheville Habitat volunteer, Diane Bryson shares about how volunteering with Asheville Habitat has helped make lemonade out of some lemons that life has thrown at her. Her attitude is an inspiration, and her power tools skills aren’t too shabby either!

Bill Kantonen: Celebrating 25 Years of Service

Having a conversation with Bill Kantonen about the last 25 years of volunteering to build houses with Asheville Habitat is a little like eating at a 5 star restaurant. With a 25-year databank of stories, he has to be selective about what he shares, but what he served up was a rich and well-seasoned selection.

Bill Kantenon

Bill Kantonen on the jobsite

A longstanding dedication to honor his commitments, is truly a thread that runs all through Bill’s life, beginning long before he hammered his first nail with Asheville Habitat. Bill worked with the YMCA for approximately 40 years, serving across the nation, finally ending up in Asheville to serve the last 12 years as Executive Director of the Asheville YMCA. A few years before signing on with the YMCA, he married his wife Jennifer with whom he spent a happily married life for the next 60 years. When Bill started his 25 year span of volunteering with Asheville Habitat he was 36 years in to marriage and 40 years into a career with a single organization.

At 40 years, however, Bill decided to retire from the YMCA in June of 1996. And, approximately one month later, in August of 96’, Bill started volunteering on jobsites every Friday morning- and would continue building houses with Asheville Habitat every week for the next 25 years. (That adds up to over 1,000 days on the jobsite, or work on over 300 houses as a volunteer!) Bill started while Asheville Habitat was building their third neighborhood, located in Wilson Creek.  Since then, Bill has built in every single Habitat neighborhood in the Asheville area.

He recalls attending the 200th home celebration in which Habitat’s founder, Millard Fuller, was the guest speaker and commented on the quality of the volunteers’ work. He said “In observing the volunteers, I believe they have reasoned, if 2 nails are good, then 10 are even better. I don’t worry about a hurricane or tornado passing through, but if someone walks by with a really large magnet, I might get nervous.” And the volunteers aren’t the only ones going the extra mile on Habitat jobsites. Bill has worked with the last three Asheville Habitat Construction Supervisors, and he says “They are all so professional. Habitat certainly builds houses to be proud of. If you don’t do it right, you do it over!”

But ultimately, Bill says, “If I can take anything away from the past 25 years, it’s the people. The volunteers, the supervisors who made sure you do it right or do it over, the folks who brought donuts for the coffee breaks…I will always remember the people.”

Bill recalls all the college students who come each year for Collegiate Challenge and alternative spring breaks. He said, “They always ask me why I do

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Bill Kantonen in Maui

this. Why do I volunteer every Friday, instead of playing golf or something like that? I tell them, when you leave at the end of the day after working on a Habitat house, you can look back and say, hey, I did that!”

Bill began volunteering with Asheville Habitat with a group of volunteers from his church, First Presbyterian of Asheville. He is one of the last of the original group to still be volunteering. But at 85, he sees no reason to stop now. He is patiently waiting until he can return after a year of limited volunteer service, and begin working on the biggest neighborhood to date, New Heights.

His incredible 25 years of service with Asheville Habitat isn’t the only thing that makes Bill stand out.  Perhaps it was the fact that he was in Maui with his daughters during our conversation, but even over the phone, Bill exudes the values of his generation. He is lighthearted, even when sharing about difficult times, he is incredibly sharp- offering meaningful memories from all aspects of his volunteer service, and he is impeccably faithful in honoring his commitments. It has truly been an honor to have Bill as part of the Asheville Habitat family for all these years.

Thank you, Bill, for your 25 years of service!  You are an inspiration to our whole team! 

Beth Robrecht: A Multi-Disciplinary Volunteer

It all started at a dinner party in the mid-1980s where Beth Robrecht was seated next to a delightful conversationalist by the name of Millard Fuller, who also happened to be the co-founder of the world-wide organization now known as Habitat for Humanity International. Mr. Fuller was no doubt an excellent ambassador for Habitat’s volunteer program, and as Beth listened to the sincere and credible commendations, she knew there would come a day when the demands of her law practice would ease, and she would have time to offer to volunteer service. She tucked the information away, and kept the idea of volunteering with Habitat for Humanity in the back of her mind for the next 15 years, until her moment arrived

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Beth at the Asheville ReStore, pre renovation

After getting married and moving to Asheville in the early 2000’s, Beth finally parted ways with her law practice and began to settle in to being a full time wife. As her schedule opened up, she remembers seeing a TV commercial for Asheville Habitat which prompted her to recall Mr. Fuller’s recommendation of volunteering with Habitat for Humanity so many years before. Soon after, she made her way downtown to what was then known as the Habitat Home Store, a small store front full of gently used donated items, located at 9 Biltmore Avenue.

Perhaps the beginning of Beth’s volunteer service with Asheville Habitat was foretelling of what would come.  She started off doing a little bit of everything at the WNC Home Store, from sweeping floors, to stocking shelves, to assisting customers. She has since served Asheville Habitat in countless ways outside of the ReStore over the past 18 years. Soon after starting at the Home Store, then Executive Director, Lew Kraus, quickly spotted her administrative and legal savvy and invited her to sit on the Board of Directors. She has since served several terms on the AAHH board, and has actually lost count of the number of committees she has either chaired or sat on, although she lists the Family Selection Committee and, most recently, the ReStore Committee as two she has chaired.

Beth is the perfect example of the type of volunteer who makes up the backbone of this organization. Although originally a ReStore volunteer, her

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Beth (second from right) with friends

professional expertise made her a great candidate to serve in other capacities within the organization- and she’s always ready and willing to serve when asked.  No matter in what capacity she serves administratively, she hasn’t stopped volunteering weekly at the Asheville ReStore. Before Covid, Beth and five friends volunteered together weekly, taking the already fun and exciting ReStore volunteer adventure to a whole new level! Covid has, of course, changed things a bit, and Beth now participates in the Monday morning volunteer work shifts that happen while the ReStore is closed to the public.

After 18 years, she still delights in the ReStore volunteer experience. “I love the thrill of the hunt! You just never know what you’re going to find, it’s delightful!  And, the other thing that I love about the Asheville ReStore is that there’s a synchronicity that happens, I can’t explain it, but it happens over and over again. I’ll see some obscure item donated to the ReStore that I’ve never seen in my whole life, and the next thing I know there is a customer at the register buying it, saying they’ve been looking for this exact thing for months! It’s so fun!!” Recently Beth found a beautiful set of China by the same maker as her mother’s wedding china, and was able to give her niece an extravagant gift at a fraction of the original cost. Beth is a ReStore devotee at heart, and we are so, so grateful she is!

 

The Man Behind the Hardware

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During a year when ReStore truck crews were not been able to enter homes to remove large furniture items or appliances, it’s not a surprise that Construction and Building Materials became the top selling merchandise category at the Asheville Area ReStores. Hardware items- tools, fixtures, fasteners and every item in between, make up a huge part of the Building Materials section.  But while ReStore staff have been spread thin with far fewer volunteers able to serve than usual, John Harvin has been the Man Behind the Hardware this past year, keeping our store’s shelves full of every hardware item that gets donated.

John Harvin lived in Germany for 30 years, managing supplies for a military school, before retiring in Asheville in 2014. He knew he wanted to volunteer during retirement, and had heard of Habitat for Humanity’s work around the world. After reaching out to the ReStore volunteer coordinator, Carrie Burgin in 2015, she quickly lined up a time for John to come tour Asheville ReStore operations.

John Harvin

John Harvin

While touring the Restore with Carrie, John noticed an area piled high with boxes full of every manner of hardware items. Carrie explained the hardware processing area often became backed up as staff weren’t able to devote enough time to the tedious job of sorting through thousands of fasteners and fixtures, as well as identifying and pricing hand tools of all types and ages. Truly, from large, vintage table saws, routers, and joiners to brand new power tools, to circa 1930s hammers and wrenches, the Asheville ReStores receive a remarkable array and volume of donated hardware items. And, beginning in 2015 thanks to John joining the ReStore volunteer team, hardware boxes no longer pile up in the processing area, but rather get sorted and priced and hit the sales floor right away!

 

Of course, as with everything else, Covid has complicated the process just a bit. The little time staff were able to devote to hardware before Covid quickly diminished as volunteers were no longer able to serve at the ReStore during open store hours. Instead of his usual 3-4 days a week, split between the Asheville and Weaverville ReStores, John began volunteering 5 days a week in order to try and keep up with the influx of hardware merchandise. John currently volunteers several hours each day, Monday–Friday, and is just managing to keep the boxes from stacking too high.

John’s almost single-handed effort to process donated hardware has paid off in a huge way for the ReStores. Many customers shop at the Restores almost exclusively for the purpose of finding hardware items for their building jobs or home improvements. In fact, over the past year, with home improvements at an all-time high, the Asheville and Weaverville ReStores sold a combined $219,352 in hardware items alone! This was largely due to the time, effort, and commitment of John Harvin. He realized quickly that items sell much better once they’ve been cleaned up, and has gone above and beyond to take the time to package bulk items and clean up older hand tools in order to present them in a way that highlights their worth. In addition, he diligently researches items he’s not familiar with, especially larger vintage tools, in order to accurately price them according to their value.

John Harvin With A Million

John Harvin With A Million Dollar Bill

As with many volunteers, after five years of service John has caught the ReStore treasure hunting bug! He pulled a 1 Million dollar bill out of his pocket that he found tucked in a donated tool box right before sitting down for this interview,  “It’s always interesting, especially when a bunch of boxes come in from the same person- you just never know what you’re going to find!” But when asked what he enjoys the most about volunteering with the ReStores, John doesn’t hesitate in his answer, “It’s just being around people. The staff at both Stores are great, they’re super friendly and interesting to talk to, and the same goes with other retirees. Having people my age with similar interests to talk to about their life, that’s definitely the best part. And of course knowing that what I do may help a family get into their own house, that’s the biggest reward.”

As with everything at the ReStore, the reward is threefold. Donors dropping off hardware items save their used items from ending up in the landfill and shoppers get a great price on new and vintage finds, all while funding Asheville Habitat’s new building and home repair programs.

Thank you John, for your amazing contribution over the past 5 years!

Asheville Habitat Volunteers Hit Major Milestones in Service

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When volunteers sign up to serve with Asheville Habitat, do they know they might be still serving 30 years later? That is the case for two volunteers this year, and many more have hit impressive milestones as well. Thank you volunteers, for continuing to stick with us, even through a very challenging year!

Deconstruction Volunteers: A 2020 Success Story

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If Donation and Deconstruction Manager Michelle Smith had been asked one year ago to predict the fruitfulness of Asheville Habitat’s Deconstruction program, her answer might not have been very positive. Smack in the middle of a 10 week shut down, the only deconstruction going on at the ReStore consisted of Michelle meeting the occasional contractor outside of shuttered ReStore doors to help unload donations of salvaged kitchens or bathrooms. From that vantage point, the year ahead for Deconstruction seemed pretty bleak.

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Michelle, Kevin, Bill, and Mary Kent on a jobsite.

Indeed, the restrictions in place for the next six months made in-home deconstruction jobs impossible for the ReStore team. When the decision was made in October to conduct deconstruction jobs in unoccupied homes only, Michelle was shocked by the community’s response. In 2020, the ReStore’s deconstruction team conducted more jobs than the previous year, in about half the time.

How is it possible, you may ask, to essentially double the productivity of a program that relies on entering homes and businesses in a year marked by a global pandemic that restricts exactly that ability?

The answer is quite simple: amazing volunteers.

In a year in which every single Asheville Habitat program was forced to pause or drastically reduce its volunteer capacity, volunteers for the small Decon team doubled, providing the capacity to meet the demand that unexpectedly arose from a community suddenly spending a lot more time at home, staring at their old kitchen cabinets.

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Michelle And Kevin unloading tools.

Kevin Campbell volunteered in the Asheville ReStore donation lane for about a year before the Covid shutdown began last March. He commented, “I missed the feel of community and comradery with the staff and other volunteers. With my background in the building trades I could have easily volunteered to help build Habitat houses but I wanted a different experience so the Restore was a perfect fit for me. Getting involved with the decon team allowed me to use my skills and help further Habitat’s mission.” And, indeed it has. Kevin has participated in numerous deconstruction jobs each month since last October, and his level of expertise, especially in items with detailed carpentry work, has been greatly appreciated.

 

Deconstruction jobs range from small, 2 hour jobs removing a few bathroom vanities, to multi-day, whole house

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Tom, Roger, Michelle and Mary Kent kitchen cabinets.

jobs with kitchens, bathrooms, doors, fixtures and more being removed and transplanted for sale at the Asheville ReStore. While for smaller jobs, 1-2 volunteers if perfectly sufficient, for larger jobs that spread over a whole home, additional volunteers make a huge difference in the amount of time a job takes, and the amount of ReStore resources- staff and truck hours- that are tied up. Michelle Smith commented on how incredible it is to work with such a professional team of volunteers who really know the value of time and who work hard to do a great job in a very efficient time. “They’ve even started joking with me when they complete a job in under two hours, saying they need more of a challenge!” Asking for more of a challenge in 2020 points to the high level of competence the volunteers bring to the team!

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Roger, Kevin and Tom removing kitchen cabinets.

The result of these volunteers signing up to enter unoccupied homes to extract kitchens, bathrooms, doors, and more was a trickledown effect that benefitted homeowners of all backgrounds. People donating deconstructed items received great service at minimal cost and were able to divert their usable items from the landfill. Those who purchased deconstructed items at the ReStore found well preserved, quality products at a fraction of the cost of buying new. And all the proceeds from each sale help fund Asheville Habitat new home building and home repair programs.

The ReStore Deconstruction volunteer team certainly worked a monumental feat in an incredibly challenging year. But you know what they say about challenges… they just make you stronger, and thanks to an amazing team of volunteers, the Deconstruction program is poised and ready for whatever this year has in store!

The Asheville Habitat family would like to extend a huge thank you to the Deconstruction volunteer team, comprised of Bob Jordan, Charlie St. Clair, Charlie Franck, Bill Bumby, Kevin Campbell, Roger Gauthier, and Tom Weaver. Thank you for all your amazing, hard work in 2020!!

 

 

 

Volunteer Spotlight: Brother Tom Sheehy

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Brother Tom Sheehy has gone above and beyond in his commitment to volunteering with the Weaverville ReStore during an incredibly difficult year. Serving five full days each week, Brother Tom’s generosity has made a huge impact on the Weaverville ReStore team and on the ReStore itself. Read more about this spotlight on ReStore volunteer, Brother Tom Sheehy.

Before and After: Home Repair for a former ReStore Volunteer

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Carolyn knew it was time to do something about her floor when she had to move heavy furniture off of it and avoid walking on it altogether. Fearful she would fall through and injure herself, she turned to Asheville Habitat’s Home Repair program. She was no stranger to Habitat because Carolyn served as a ReStore volunteer for four years.

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.