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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!

 

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!

A Letter To Our Volunteers

To close out National Volunteer Appreciation Week, Asheville Habitat Executive Director Andy Barnett has a message for our volunteers.

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.

Flexible Volunteers Contribute to Success of ReStore

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By Alex Cox

Since proceeds from ReStore sales cover administrative and fundraising costs, the 140 volunteers that serve every week are essential in enabling the store to remain a source of funding that allows Habitat to serve families in our community. This week, in Honor of National Volunteer Appreciation Week, we are spotlighting ReStore volunteers Marianne Ryall and Ned Guttman.

Marianne Ryall, from Beaufort, SC, moved to Asheville to be closer to her family, specifically her son. She got familiar with the ReStore out of necessity: after moving here, Marianne needed furniture for her new space, and shopped at the ReStore to find items for her home. She has been volunteering with the ReStore since 2014. Marianne has been invaluable because she has come to be a “floater”, meaning she covers different volunteer shifts as needs change. She has to remain flexible, but that’s no problem for her. Marianne says she has enjoyed her time at the ReStore and plans to volunteer for the foreseeable future.

“This ReStore is definitely different,” Marianne said. “I’ve been to others in South Carolina, but this one is wonderful. Everyone is so helpful and there is such a diverse selection of things.”

Ned Guttman, who has been retired for 10 years and has been volunteering since, is another who steps up to meet needs. “After I retired 10 years ago, I wanted to give back to the community, and volunteering is a way to do that,” said Ned. “I think Habitat is a very worthwhile cause.”

Ned comes in weekly for his regular position of testing and repairing electronics, and also comes in another day each week to help with a separate duty. He knew there was a need for someone to enter volunteer hours into the database on a regular basis. Without being asked, Ned offered his time to complete the task.

“I added the data entry because I knew they needed help, and I am very comfortable with computers.”  Keeping up with the database requires attention to detail, patience, and a commitment to volunteering every week. The numbers need to be submitted on a monthly, quarterly, and yearly basis, and Ned understands the importance of meeting deadlines. He added, “I still volunteer for Habitat because of the appreciation given to the volunteers.”

Every volunteer is vital to Habitat’s mission and the ReStore’s daily operations, and when volunteers take initiative to recognize needs and fill them, it allows things to run even more smoothly. So in honor of National Volunteer Appreciation Week, we say thank you to Ned and Marianne for their flexibility and their dedication!

If you’re interested in volunteering with Habitat, please click here to learn more or sign up.

Volunteering as Job Skills Training

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By Rachel Rasmussen

Jesse Trimbach initially reached out about volunteering with Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity (AAHH) because he was seeking more date entry experience. Since he started volunteering in Habitat’s administrative office in February 2016, he’s also enjoyed making friends with the staff and learning about Habitat’s work in the community.

Every Tuesday morning, Jesse logs on to the computer at his desk and gets to work entering ReStore donor information into Habitat’s database. A product donation to the ReStore triggers many behind-the-scene steps that help get a piece of furniture to the sales floor and a thank-you letter in the donor’s hands. Jesse specializes in the step that captures the appropriate ReStore donor contact information so that the donor can stay connected with the work Habitat is doing to help homeowners achieve stability through affordable housing.

When asked about one of his favorite memories of volunteering with Habitat, Jesse immediately recounted the afternoon he spent with other office volunteers on an educational tour of the Shiloh neighborhood. During the past 20 years, Asheville Area Habitat has built more than 40 single-family homes in Shiloh, and in current latest Shiloh: Let’s Build! initiative, Habitat is building 15 more new houses and completing 30 Home Repair projects. In order to highlight the strength of the Shiloh neighborhood and Habitat’s Home Repair program, administrative staff organized a tour for office volunteers to see the community impact of their volunteer commitment.

Volunteering at Habitat has also impacted Jesse. He says that he’s “getting more experience with data entry” and will eventually be looking for a job. Jesse isn’t the only volunteer who sees his time spent at Habitat as part of his job skills training. Asheville Area Habitat partners with AmeriCorps, UNCA, Hands and Feet of Asheville, and other organizations to offer internships and job training volunteer opportunities.

While Jesse strengthens his database and computer skills while volunteering at Habitat, he also does data entry volunteer work every week at the Western North Carolina AIDS Project. When not volunteering, he enjoys going for walks by himself, taking the bus around Asheville, and visiting his parents. Jesse says that he would recommend volunteering at Asheville Area Habitat “because it’s a friendly community and people are very helpful.”

If you’re interested in volunteering with Asheville Habitat, please click here to learn more and sign up.

150 Houses and Counting

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By Sammie Smith

In the past 14 years, Bill Durant (above right), a core construction volunteer, has worked on more than 150 Habitat for Humanity houses between Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity and Henderson County Habitat for Humanity! After 12 years of working with Habitat in Henderson County, he moved to Deerfield Retirement Community in Asheville and soon picked up where he left off – building houses with Habitat. After working with Deerfield on Asheville Habitat’s Episcopal Build a year and a half ago, Bill continues to volunteer on the Asheville Habitat construction site every Friday morning.

Bill has a degree in chemical engineering from Auburn University and spent his 40 year career at the Savannah River Site nuclear research and development laboratory. His expertise was in the development of techniques for quantitative risk assessment and accident prevention for nuclear and chemical processes. So his focus on safety has major value on our active construction site, where safety is a top priority.

Upon retirement, Bill was seeking a volunteer opportunity that matched his skillset and would make a positive impact on the lives of others. “I keep coming back (to Habitat) because I believe it was God’s calling for me and that He has continued to bless me with good health so that I can do the job.”

“What I enjoy most about Habitat are the friends I make and seeing the positive impact on the lives of others.” Bill also spoke of the camaraderie with his crew and how they frequently gather for pot luck dinners where they can get to know the families in a relaxing and cordial environment. “I met my closest friend through Habitat,” he shared.

Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity relies on our core volunteers to be advocates for us. Bill knows the importance of this and has actively recruited several people to volunteer with Habitat. “On numerous occasions I have taken prospective volunteers to see what we have done in the past, the houses we are currently building, the support facilities and personnel, and tell them about the tools they need. Most people sign up on the spot.”

In speaking about the impact that Habitat has on his life, Bill said, “It gives me a great feeling of purpose especially when I drive through existing Habitat developments and see the kids playing and I know that they have a much better life thanks to Habitat volunteers and donors.”

“I am only one of the many who show up week after week to help make the Habitat homeownership dream possible. I have reached 150 houses only because of longevity, the sweat of my colleagues, the guidance of the site construction supervisors, and the blessings of my Lord and Savior. Thanks for the opportunity.”

The Habitat model wouldn’t function without committed volunteers like Bill. Working on 150 houses – directly helping 150 families – is truly remarkable and Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity is grateful for your hard work and dedication!

Interested in volunteering with Asheville Habitat? Click here to learn more or sign up.

A Friendly Face at the Front Desk

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Barbara Cooper has been volunteering at the administrative office of Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity since January 2016. We recently sat down with Barb to learn about her volunteer experience.

Habitat: Why did you decide to volunteer for Asheville Area Habitat?

Barb: Habitat’s mission connected with me on a personal level, and I wanted to give back the hope and help I was thankful enough to receive since I’ve been in WNC. Asheville has become a new start – a safe place – for my daughter and I, and I wanted to be a part of the journey of making that happen for others.

Habitat: What does a typical volunteer shift look like for you?

Barb: I volunteer every Thursday from 11am to 3pm at the front desk in the administrative building. The day always flies by so quickly. I am answering phones and directing inquiries, filing paperwork, inputting information into spreadsheets, and sending out thank you postcards to donors. Sometimes I help out on special projects staff members asked me to do… and always with a smile on my face!

Habitat: How do you spend your time when you’re not volunteering with Asheville Area Habitat?

Barb: I am enjoying my retirement. For the most part, I spend free time with my family because they are the most important people to me. I’m also in the process of training for a 5K race in September. Please wish me luck, I’ll need it!

Habitat: Do you have a specific story from volunteering that stands out to you?

Barb: One particular Thursday, there was a big group of people meeting in the large conference room. Needless to say, there was a lot of traffic in the ladies and men’s restrooms. Evidently, one of the men’s bathrooms got backed up, and one of the members from the meeting came to me and reported the problem. I asked him if there was a plunger and he said he didn’t see one. So I took it upon myself to go in and rectify the situation. When the men’s bathroom was fixed, I went back to my desk to do more work for an hour. Then a woman came to me and told me the ladies restroom had a similar issue. I just chuckled to myself and marched back in to the bathroom to resolve that problem. Once that was done, I went back to my desk and told my supervisor about what had transpired. She laughed, thanked me for what I did, and said “It was not in your job description. You went over and beyond the call of duty.” As you can imagine, that’s one memory I will never forget!

Habitat: How do you see your volunteering as a part of Habitat’s mission to “bring people together to build homes, communities, and hope”?

Barb: Habitat’s mission is extraordinary, and I have the privilege of being a part of it. My job as a volunteer in the administration building is to be open, welcoming, receptive, and kind. I connect with people, as well as direct inquiries and provide educational material if they ask for it. I might be the very first person they see on their journey to a new home and a new life. If I can give them hope and put a smile on their face, I believe I will continue to play a positive role in Habitat’s mission.

Habitat: How has volunteering at Habitat impacted you?

Barb: Habitat has given me an opportunity to grow as a person by giving back to the community. I truly look forward to every Thursday because I know the work I do makes a positive difference. Also, I’m very thankful I found Habitat because it’s been an amazing platform that has helped me develop and utilize my clerical skills.

Habitat: What would you say to someone who is considering volunteering at Asheville Habitat?

Barb: I would say go for it! My experience has been nothing but positive and I imagine the same can be said for anyone else that begins volunteering at Asheville Habitat.

Today, we’re thanking Barb for her commitment to Asheville Area Habitat and her service to everyone who enters Habitat’s doors in the pursuit of decent and affordable housing.

Interested in volunteering with us? Click here to learn more or sign up.

Every hand makes a difference

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With volunteers central to our business model, we are recognizing milestones and thanking volunteers with small gifts and mid-day meals during National Volunteer Appreciation Week Habitat (April 23-29).

Whether you’re swinging a hammer at the construction site, fixing a floor at a home repair project, accepting donations at the ReStore, answering the phone in the office, or serving on a committee, each volunteer action directly impacts Habitat’s ability to serve more families in need of a decent and affordable place to live. Last year, 1,800 volunteers contributed 65,000 hours of service – at a value of more than $1.5 million!* Another way to look at it: the hours contributed by volunteers equates to having an additional 30 full-time staff members!

Every hand makes a difference and Habitat is grateful for the commitment of all volunteers, whether they helped one time or once a week, for the first time or for many years. Speaking of longevity, a number of our core volunteers (those who make a weekly or bi-weekly commitment) reached noteworthy service milestones in 2016.

  • Ray Ducharme and Bob Laveck (Construction) and Phil Casey, Bill Crownover and Alan Williams (ReStore), met the 15 year service mark.
  • Husband and wife duo Ken and Carol Deal reached their 20 year anniversary of volunteering together on the construction site.
  • ReStore volunteers Helen Andrews and Bruce Tettemer have been volunteering in the ReStore for 20 years.
  • Shirley Studwell (ReStore) celebrated 25 years of service with Habitat!

Some fun facts about Asheville Habitat’s volunteer program:

  • In 2016, through programs such as Global Village, Thrivent Builds Worldwide, and Collegiate Challenge, as well as the signature “Before the Jam, Lend a Hand” volunteer event, Asheville Area Habitat hosted volunteers from 28 different U.S. states and 3 countries.
  • It takes 1,650 hours of volunteer labor to build one Habitat house.
  • Habitat utilizes about 140 volunteers in the ReStore each week.
  • Core volunteers (those who volunteer on a weekly or bi-weekly basis) contributed 43,038 of the 65,000 hours of service!

Thanks to our volunteers (and donors, sponsors and ReStore supporters), Asheville Habitat built 14 new houses and repair 43 existing homes last year, helping to address our region’s affordable housing crisis and providing opportunities for families to build better futures.

If you’re interested in volunteering with us, please click here to learn more and sign up.