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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.

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.

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.

A most gratifying project

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A reflection by Jennie Goldenberg, an AmeriCorps member who works on the Home Repair team. 

“Recently we had a huge home repair project that involved fixing about 60% of our client’s home. He has cerebral palsy and had been living independently for about ten years. He unfortunately was not able to keep up with the house and in turn the framing had sunk in and it was not healthy for him to live there anymore. By working on the 60% of his house, we were able to get him a workable area that he could live in again. It was one of the toughest projects to date, but it was also the most gratifying.

His kitchen before the remodel was in disarray, and nothing was able to be used to making a nutritious meal. We were able to install new cabinets, lighting, and a stove, with a safe and level floor. He had been sleeping in a chair in his living room, not utilizing either one of the two bedrooms that were in the house. We were able to take the back bedroom and stabilize the flooring so that it would no longer be falling; we made it completely level so that it was safe for him to walk. We completely remodeled his bathroom, with a new washer, dryer, shower and vanity. The washer and dryer were set up correctly, therefore not as much of a fire risk as the ones before. The shower was converted into a walk-in shower with handrails, so that he has less probability of falling when getting in. By getting all of these individual parts of his house fixed, we have given him the ability to continue to live his life in the home that has been passed down through his family.

Upon completion, he and his mother came to see what the finished product looked like. Co-workers Chris and Pete and I took the tour with them, and we were able to see their reaction to a completely different looking house. They had so much gratitude for us and were amazed at how much we were able to get done in a month. At the end of the tour we all held hands and had a moment of peace and togetherness. I could tell that he and his mother were so grateful that he was going to be able to continue to live in the home that he spent most of his adult life. This is a project that I really felt like we were going to have a lasting impact on their family, and ultimately create a better life for him.”

To learn more about the client (Victor) and see photos of his renovated home, click here.

Interested in serving as an AmeriCorps member with us starting in August 2020? Click here to see the open positions with Asheville Habitat and apply.

Homes, Communities, Hope & YOU

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For low-income families, stay at home orders exacerbate existing struggles such as exposure to toxins like mold and mildew, overcrowded conditions, and unsafe neighborhoods. While this pandemic affects everyone, the effects on our low-income neighbors is most acute.

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.

AmeriCorps Stories: Lauren Rozman

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“When I told my family and friends I was starting an AmeriCorps position, their response was mostly “Ummmmm, why?” What they thought was taking a step backward for me, ended up being a huge leap forward.”

What you CAN do right now

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Like everyone, we are navigating unchartered territory. And like so many non-profits, our families’ needs can’t wait and in most cases are exacerbated by Covid-19. We’re an organization that unites people every day, side by side. In our ReStores, on our jobsites, with celebratory events, and in our community conference room. So, how we engage with you is going to look different for awhile, but we can still be united in spirit and in individual action that has collective impact.

Please read below for ways you can support us and the community during this unprecedented time. Thank you and be well.

DONATE
Affordable housing can’t wait. We are facing a significant loss of income that compromises our ability to build and repair affordable homes. Our ReStores are shuttered, all events are cancelled, and day-to-day fundraising is strained. If you have a safe, decent home, you are likely finding comfort and reassurance in it right now, but worried for those who don’t have a place to retreat. Please make a gift so we can ensure more of our neighbors have that same sense of stability and comfort.

ADVOCATE
With 1 in 6 households paying more than half their paycheck on rent, families already have to make sacrifices- health care, education, transportation, etc. Now with COVID-19 bringing many facets of everyone’s lives to a grinding halt, low-income families are the hardest hit. In the days, weeks and months ahead, our collective advocacy will play an important role in ensuring necessary support for our homeowners and community residents financially impacted by the pandemic and Habitat’s work. It is critical that Congress hear from Habitat and our communities about the importance of housing stability during this health crisis. Please take action now by clicking the link below. Thank you!

VOLUNTEER

  • Though we have cancelled all volunteers until further notice, some organizations can still use volunteers in select capacities- MANNA, Homeward Bound, BeLoved to name a few. If you are healthy, fall into the low-risk category, and our comfortable doing so, please consider exploring opportunities listed with HandsOn.

CLEAN NOW, DONATE LATER
Our normally bustling ReStores are shuttered. As you spring clean, please remember the ReStore. Box up your items now for donation drop-off or pick-up later. We hope our next challenge will be more donations of gently used items than we could ever anticipate! Thank you in advance.

STAY IN TOUCH
You can continue to see photos, watch videos, read blog posts and connect with us on social media, read e-newsletters and Advocacy alerts, and visit our website and blog. We look forward to the day that we can all come together in community in person. Until then, stay connected with us virtually and be well.

And it goes without saying, take care of yourself, your family, your neighbors and your friends. We’re all in this together!

 

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