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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

Bill Kantonen Edited

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

Beth At Register Edited

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

Wed Afternoon Ladies Web

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!