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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!

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.

Local Muralist Paints Tribute to Front Line Health Care Workers

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By Maddy Alewine, Communications Specialist

Now as Mission Hospital staff and patients look down at Biltmore Avenue and as people drive by Mission’s Emergency Room they will be met with a colorful and vibrant mural of gratitude for the people on the front lines of the Covid-19 epidemic— healthcare workers. 

Local muralist Ian Brownlee knew he wanted to paint a mural to thank all the hospital workers, he said. After reaching out to The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina (CFWNC), Brownlee was connected with Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity, the owner of a small building on Biltmore Avenue that is directly across from the entrance to Mission’s ER.  

“When people see it, I’m really hoping they feel appreciated,” Brownlee said. “As we have been painting it, we’ve had folks honk horns, give thumbs up and cheer as they drove by.” 

The property at 500 Biltmore Avenue was donated to Asheville Habitat and is currently being held for future sale or redevelopment consistent with the donor’s wishes. Brownlee came forward to ask about the building because the location is perfect for his message. 

“Habitat is so grateful to Ian for wanting to recognize all heath care workers, especially since a number of Habitat homeowners work in the health care field,” Sydney Monsaw, Habitat’s Sponsorship and
Stewardship Coordinator said. “It was great to partner in a different way and pay tribute to those
doing the hard, caring work for our community.”

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Muralist Ian Brownlee draws the outline of a section of his mural July 7, 2020.

Recently boards were put up and primed by a Habitat staff member to make the front building façade flatproviding Brownlee with a blank canvas. CFWNC covered the cost of painting supplies and helped supply volunteers. Bright hues of pink, blue, red, and yellow form the figures of nurses, caregivers, a janitor, and doctors with the message “thank you healthcare workers.” 

Habitat is happy to be a small part of this tribute to health care workers that mean so much right now,” Asheville Habitat’s Executive Director Andy Barnett said. “In our affordable housing work, we partner with a number of folks who are in health care professions and we want all of them to know they are appreciated.” 

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(BACK ON) Partnership Provides Unique Volunteer Opportunities

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We are thrilled to be the non-profit partner of the 2020 Southern Living Idea House! Proceeds from ticket sales are expected to raise enough to build an entire Habitat home! Built by Buchanan Construction in The Ramble Biltmore Forest, this 3,500 square foot, Victorian-inspired timeless farmhouse will open for tours on Wednesday, July 29th.

My AmeriCorps Story

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By Sydney Monshaw 

Ryan (fellow AmeriCorps member) and I and two volunteers working on a lead paint remediation project in Enka in early Spring 2018. This was the first time we had needed the yellow suits and we kept joking around that we felt like ghostbusters!

Nearly three years ago I moved to the mountains of North Carolina, without knowing a single other person, to take a job in construction with Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity. I did a year of service with AmeriCorps as a member of the Home Repair team, decided to stick around for a second year of service, was hired as a Home Repair site supervisor, and finally made my way to the Fund Development team. A winding path full of challenge, growth, mud, sweat, spreadsheets, and deep love for this Asheville community I now get to call home.

I began my first service term in August of 2017. I had just graduated from NYU and had no idea what I was going to do with my life or how to put my desire to serve into action. I knew I wanted to make a difference in the world, use my youth to put in the hard work often necessary to make change, and have an experience unlike anything I’d had while living in New York City. Through both my service and my employment with Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity, a passion for affordable housing has been sparked in me. My work has given me the opportunity to grow in empathy and compassion and to seek solutions so that truly everyone has a place to call home.

Ryan and I working on Sophie Dixon’s house in Shiloh in the fall of 2017, my first AmeriCorps year. We had only been on the job a few weeks but I was given a leadership role on this house because our project manager was leading a volunteer team in Guatemala and Ryan was in the hospital.

This was late spring/early summer 2018 and Ryan and I were getting to the end of our service term. We were power washing a home in Arden for a sweet aging lady and that was the day we knew the power washer was falling apart, we both got SOAKED.

We were working on a project all the way out in Barnardsville in the fall of 2018 for a very cool family. We built them a retaining wall (visible behind us) and it was HARD work. We moved tons and tons of concrete block, stone and 6×6 posts. The homeowner helped us well past his sweat equity requirement with all of this heavy lifting and one morning when it got to be a little chilly, he emerged in his AmeriCorps sweatshirt. It turned out that he had served as an AmeriCorps too! He was so proud of his service and so proud to work alongside us. It brought together all of the pieces of Habitat that I love: community, relationships, hard work, and stories.

My first year of AmeriCorps was what you might expect from a 23-year-old with limited construction experience: driving a huge van around Buncombe County, fixing everything from leaking sinks to broken floor systems, and building 80-foot ramps and cinder block retaining walls. I learned a heck of a lot that year, and I made a lot of mistakes. Not only did I learn how to use a circular saw, and what dimensions are appropriate for a ramp, I also learned to manage volunteers, how to plan projects, and that I am a lot stronger (physically) than I thought I was! We moved a lot of heavy things! In all of that learning I also purchased the wrong materials plenty of times, sawed pieces of lumber that were meant to remain uncut, and drilled so many screws that should have been nails. All of my missteps were met with kindness and understanding from my supervisor. That whole first year he just kept saying “it’s only wood and nails” and he would patiently walk me through how to do it correctly. It was a safe space to try and fail and blunder and succeed, a place for my confidence to grow.

When I applied to serve another year on the Home Repair team, I had dreams of increasing my leadership in order to begin to make an actual difference (now that I was wise and knew the difference between a drill and an impact driver). I had no idea I would be given the opportunity of

I took this shot during the last week of our fiscal year in summer 2019. We were making a big push to finish a Veteran Repair Corps job and we hit every possible hurdle from flaky volunteers, to bad weather, to extraordinary heat, and material delays. We called on all staff to give us a hand and we got a lot of help! It was really cool to get to work alongside our ED Andy Barnett for the day. As an AmeriCorps (who knew I was going to be staff at that point) it was neat to get some time to know him and his views about Habitat. Our ED is accessible and can put in a hard day’s work on site when we truly need everybody to roll up their sleeves! He also took us out for tacos that day and it was a real treat to share a meal with our team!

a lifetime to build my management skills, advocate for our aging population, and help to highlight some previously unknown needs that our affiliate could address. That year I was asked to work on a pilot program that would serve clients over age 60 with no-cost repairs. We had a strict and small budget, a limited scope for the types of repairs we could provide, and lots of reporting that had to happen for every client served. I was able to serve 20 clients and their families over the course of that year and was witness to countless stories of resilience and strength. Not only was I able to repair mobile home floors and build access ramps so that home would be a safe place for these families, I was also able to build relationships that were meaningful. For some of my clients, the Home Repair team were the only people they had talked to in some time and they were grateful for some company as well as new floors. I worked harder than I had ever worked before to make a difference for those families, and to take what I had learned to advocate for folks like them across the county.

I knew that by the end of my second year of service I could not say goodbye to our affiliate, the coworkers who had become like family, and the mission that made me excited to go to work every day. I was fortunate enough to have a combination of great timing and supportive leadership on my side to make my transition to full-time staff seamless. I was hired as the Home Repair Supervisor for our Aging in Place projects to continue the work I had been doing as an AmeriCorps member, with plans in place to transition away from direct service work and into the Fund Development team in the spring. I am filled with gratitude every day for the work that I get to do. I believe in this mission, I believe in the incredible staff I am lucky enough to work with and learn from, and I believe that we can make a change in affordable housing in Asheville – together. AmeriCorps changed my life and I am so glad I landed at Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity.

My heart in a photo. Our team was so close after spending a really tough year together. We accomplished an incredible amount, bolstered a pilot program in its second year, and made a huge amount of change for so many families. I consider these folks to be my second family – we saw each other every single day, knew each other so well, and navigated challenges and successes as a team. I am grateful all the time that AmeriCorps gave me these strong, kind, thoughtful hearts to work with.

2019.2020 Team

The fall 2019-spring 2020 construction staff looking cute for the holidays out at the Curry Court jobsite. The construction staff is like a family and any one of these people I can count on as my coworker and friend. They are a special group with incredible talent and passion for this work. I learned so much from all of them during my time as an AmeriCorps!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

p.s. One of the most fun things about AmeriCorps is Build-a-Thon. Every AmeriCorps member from every Habitat affiliate in the US comes together to build for a week. Imagine summer camp meets construction, meets a crash course in social justice and advocacy. It is an incredible feeling to stand in a sea of hardhats, surrounded by hundreds of people who have committed, just like you have, to serve their community in a tangible way. It is humbling and empowering and I wish everyone could have such an experience.

Taken at Build-a- Thon 2019 in Wake County, NC. The dream team of AmeriCorps! It was so much fun to go to Build-a-Thon together. We got to spend extra time with each other, we made friends with folks serving all over the country, and we got some sweet tan lines. This is a hardworking and dedicated group right here, I feel lucky to have worked with each of them! L to R: Kaitlyn, Nora, me, Mackenzie and Billy.

 

Interested in serving as an AmeriCorps member with Asheville Habitat? Click here to see the opportunities.

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.

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