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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.

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.

(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.

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.

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.

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.

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