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Volunteer Team Makes Big Single-Day Impact

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By Ariane Kjellquist, with contributions from Sydney Monshaw

Like most of our Home repair clients, Ms. Priscilla McDowell is an aging adult in need of home improvements that improve access and safety. Our Home Repair team recently tackled the job of completely rebuilding two large, crumbling and unsafe porches at Ms. McDowell’s home. This included removing the existing structures and building a smaller deck and landing with less steep stairs. Thanks to a crew of four volunteers from Beach Hensley Homes, the project was completed ahead of schedule. “I was planning to spend at least a week at this job,” shared Project Supervisor Sydney Monshaw. “With Beach Hensley’s help we were able to complete this project in just three days!”

Their volunteers arrived on Wednesday to the old decks already removed and footers for the new one ready to go. In the first hour, the deck was framed and the posts were set. By lunch break everything had decking, the stairs were hung, and handrails had been started. By the time the Beach Hensley crew left at 4:45pm (staying later than needed because they wanted to get it done) they had the entire porch completed, with the exception of one stair tread and three kick plates. And that work was only outstanding because they ran out of materials! With just a handful of very small things to finish the following day, this 5-day job was done in just 2 ½ days!

It’s not surprising that a team of professional contractors work more quickly and efficiently than a staff supervisor and a few volunteers with less or no construction experience. Habitat is used to working with volunteers that run the gamut from never having used a saw to trade professionals that could do the work in their sleep. But this crew brought added-value in the form of knowledge sharing. They took a minute here and there to explain why they were making certain choices. Sydney said, “As the supervisor of this jobsite, I am grateful for their efficiency, skill, and knowledge. As a member of the greater Asheville community, I am grateful for their generosity and willingness to give back. Ms. McDowell is not only safer because of them, she’s also proud and excited about her new back porch.”

Home Repair for low-income homeowners is a significant and growing community need. The population of aging adults in Buncombe County continues to grow, and one of the best ways to help residents live with more safety, security and dignity as they age, is to help them remain in the homes they already own. To try to keep up with demand, we have grown our repair program by adding a second supervisor and a second work van, and we continue to utilize three AmeriCorps members. We increased our goal mid-year from 60 to 70 jobs. Additionally, we manage “Aging in Place”, a sort of program-within-a-program, that serves clients that come to us through a partnership with The Council on Aging. And this year, we did a community project with Poder Emma, in which we served 25 families in one day, and trained community members to serve another 75 with security and safety upgrades.

As you can see, being able to complete a project in half the time is a substantial win for a program with aggressive goals and a team stretched thin. If your business of trade professionals can spare just one day to volunteer on a Habitat Home Repair project, we would LOVE to have you! Asheville Habitat has committed to serving another 1,000 families within 10 years and 600 will be through Home Repair. Be part of our success story! To learn more, call 828.210-9383 or email swallace@ashevillehabitat.org.

 

 

 

Bernie Koesters: Making an Impact Locally and Globally

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By Ariane Kjellquist

From rehabbing a 100+ year old house in Portugal and installing smokeless stoves in Guatemala, to teaching woodworking to “street kids” in Bolivia and building Habitat homes here in Asheville, Bernie Koesters (pictured above with his wife Sue) is driven by the belief that “we need to give back, especially those of us that have more. We have an obligation to give back.”

Sue shares the same sentiment. She went back to school to get a nursing degree with the desire to work in under-served rural communities. It was that desire that took the couple to Bolivia for a 7-month stint. In addition to teaching street kids there woodworking skills, Bernie designed and built safety guards for existing equipment and helped refurbish used tools purchased with a grant.

When you hear Bernie talk about the work he does with Habitat and other non-profits, you might assume, as I did, that he is a retired engineer. Many Habitat volunteers are. Instead, his upbringing is what taught this retired CPA the skills he uses to give back. Raised one of seven on a farm in Ohio, he and his siblings learned to repair and rebuild farm equipment in the off-season. “We didn’t have a lot of money, so we needed to make things last.”

A seasoned Habitat for Humanity Global Village trip participant (in fact, he and Sue were just in Guatemala this month), Bernie has seen first-hand the impact that safe, decent and affordable housing has on families globally and locally.

“What I saw making the biggest impact on families in Guatemala was water filters and smokeless stoves. The stoves free families from respiratory illness and they see a healthier future for themselves and their kids.”

Habitat for Humanity Guatemala reports that 52% of Guatemalans have respiratory illness and 95% of water is contaminated. Asheville Habitat staffer and Global Village trip leader Joel Johnson added, “The cost of a smokeless stove is only $100 USD, but it will change the lives of Guatemalan women and children dramatically. Most have severe respiratory illness because they are not cooking or heating with proper ventilation.” A water filter costs a mere $35, makes water potable and significantly reduces water-borne illness.

Excited by the prospect of a healthier future and per the Habitat model, Guatemalan homeowners contribute “sweat equity”. This primarily happens before out-of-town work teams arrive. Using pre-made forms, families press adobe blocks that the volunteers later use to build smokeless stoves.

team at dinner in guatemala

“I really enjoy meeting people and realizing that no matter where you are, others are just like us– just trying to make it, day in and day out. Everyone is just trying to move to a level that is about more than just surviving; into a different position of living.”

Bernie also mentioned another highlight: lunch with the mothers and children (fathers are usually off working). “Language never seems to be a barrier. A lot can be communicated with hand signals, a friendly face or a smile.”

DYK? Asheville Habitat has been “following our tithe” to Guatemala for many years now and we are one of 77 Habitat affiliates engaged in the Global Village program.

 

 

 

 

 

AmeriCorps Get Things Done

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By Maddy Alewine  It’s hard to put into a nice, neat paragraph how AmeriCorps impacts Asheville Habitat and in turn, the community. This year’s five AmeriCorps- Sydney, Billy, Nora, Kaitlyn, and Mackenzie- started their year with us jumping in head first, taking on each new challenge with gusto and passion.

Volunteer Spotlight: Tom Weaver

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By Marty Steinberg
It’s deconstruction day. Habitat for Humanity volunteer Tom Weaver arrives early, as he always does. He meets the homeowners, John and Irene, who have decided to donate their kitchen cabinets and appliances to the ReStore rather than see them go into the dumpster or to the scrapyard.

The Unpaid Bills… But Not the Kind You’re Thinking

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By Sydney Monshaw

Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity has many unpaid Bills – but not the kind you’re thinking. These Bills have chosen to be left unpaid, donating their time and energy, often a few times a week, to help build and repair homes for families, primarily in Buncombe county. Though one Bill volunteers in Henderson County, too! There are seven Bills in total, but as Bill Durant a Friday Core volunteer mused, “Comparable to the stack on my desk – both are increasing.” While this group started as something silly to refer to the growing number of core volunteers named Bill who receives their pay in the form of gratitude and sore muscles, The Unpaid Bills has become an identity for these men who make up a community within the larger group of weekly Core Habitat construction volunteers.

Bill Reid, Bill Ryan, Bill Winkler, part of the Thursday core volunteers

Bill Lineberry

This group of dedicated Bills ranges in years of experience, some having as many as 15 years as a volunteer. The rookie Bill, also the medical Bill (a retired doctor), will be celebrating his one year anniversary as a core volunteer this December. Most, however, fall somewhere in the middle, with about 7 years of service on average. At least one Bill is out on the new home construction job site almost every day of the week! On Mondays Bill Winkler represents the “Unpaid Bills,” Tuesday Bill Bechtold and Bill McDowall hold down the fort, Thursday Bill Winkler joins Bill Reid and Bill Ryan for his second shift of the week, and on Friday Bill Durant, Bill Kantonen, and Bill Lineberry are working hard to close out the week. All of these Bills are committed to building a better future, one day at a time.

When asked what they enjoy most about volunteering, here is what a few Bills had to say:

“I enjoy all aspects of volunteering -The work fits my desired activities and skill set; the other volunteers and staff are exactly the type of people I enjoy being around – the BEST! The satisfaction of contributing to the Asheville community is highly rewarding.” – Bill Winkler (Tuesday, Thursday)

“I enjoy most the camaraderie with my fellow volunteers and in helping people who are willing to try to improve their situation in life.” – Bill Durant (Friday)

Bill Durant

“Helping folks, camaraderie of the build teams, and learning how to build/repair things the right way. (Also the nutritious break time snacks.)” – Bill Reid (Thursday)

“Helping deserving people have a home of their own while working with great bunch of people. It has also been a great hands-on learning experience. Although I had done some construction work and have a General Contractors License, I was surprised at how little I really knew.”– Bill McDowall (Tuesday)

Bill McDowall

“There are multiple factors that I like about volunteering, foremost among these are:

  1. The efficiency of the Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity Organization
  2. The professionalism of Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity staff
  3. The camaraderie among Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity volunteers
  4. The opportunity to contribute to the local community in a meaningful way.” – Bill Bechtold (Tuesday)

Bill Bechtold

 

“What I like best is the combination of fun work that benefits the community and the opportunity to work with great future homeowners (super folks), great staff, and great volunteers. Making a difference.” – Bill Ryan (Thursday)

Bill Kantonen

You would never know that the Bills go unpaid at Habitat. They work with integrity and commitment, living out the mission of Habitat – bringing people together to build homes, communities, and hope. For them, it is about so much more than the lumber, nails, paint, and shingles that create a house – it is about the community, camaraderie, and sense of belonging that truly builds a home. Bill Bechtold captured perfectly the feeling of being one of the “Unpaid Bills.” He said, “Being an Unpaid Bill reminds me to feel grateful that I am healthy enough and fortunate enough to do something meaningful in the community for people who deserve a hand up.”

Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity is fortunate to have so many unpaid Bills who keep coming back week after week. They, like all of the core volunteers, take home their pay stubs in the form of muddy boots and strong friendships, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.

Thank You March Madness Volunteers!

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As we near the end of this year’s National Volunteer Appreciation Week, Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity takes a look back to recognize all the amazing students and Collegiate Challenge groups who traveled to Asheville in March to volunteer with us. Students came from all over the country including the University of Florida, College of Charleston, University of Wisconsin, and Lesley University (Massachusetts).

Click this photo to view an album!

Students worked at the jobsite in Arden, alongside future homeowners and core volunteers. The highlight of the week is always a group dinner with a homeowner family. Lesley University students and future homeowner LaQuila Harris celebrated Pie Day on March with pizza and dessert pies!

“It’s amazing to see different people coming together, and see the students really learn and connect,” Construction Services Volunteer Coordinator Stephanie Wallace recalled. “Core volunteers rallied together to get Biltmore Estate tickets for each group of students, going above and beyond to make the students’ experience in Asheville that much more memorable.”

Lesley University students with LaQuila Harris and her daughter in the ReStore.

Stephanie added, “The generosity around this particular month was really special.”

For many of the students, this experience is one they will never forget and leaves a lasting impact. Stephanie recalled Sofia Atzrodt, a University of Florida student, who began the week very timidly and lacking confidence in her building skills at the jobsite. Throughout the week, with mentorship from the construction staff, Sofia became empowered and really flourished.

“I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect from a week long Habitat trip with eight strangers, but I have come out of it with close and meaningful friendships, a new sense of purpose, and a different perspective of the world,” Sofia remarked.

University of Florida student Ajay Patel offered this reflection: “The experience of building something for another human cannot be paralleled. These people blew us away with their hospitality, life knowledge, and especially warm hearts. If done correctly this experience should help restore your faith in humanity.”

 

A True Passion for Habitat

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By Maria Angell

As soon as you walk into the Asheville Habitat ReStore, volunteer Rhonda McKenna’s smiling face is going to be one of the first things you see.

Rhonda has a long history of volunteering, including her volunteer work with homeless shelters, churches, and her daughter’s school back in Atlanta, Georgia. Over twelve years ago, she and her family left Georgia and moved here to Asheville, North Carolina. With her daughter in school and her husband travelling for work, Rhonda decided to go back to volunteering in order to keep herself busy. She is a firm believer in service and thought that working with a local organization would give her an opportunity to meet new people in a new town. She tried volunteering with a few organizations, but none of them seemed to be the right fit. That’s when she decided to reach out to Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity, as she had previous experience with Habitat back in Atlanta. “Habitat was organized right from the start. They immediately got back to me and had a position for me right away. I loved working with them in Atlanta. I love the cause and the whole mission.”

Rhonda now has experience in just about every volunteer position Asheville Habitat offers, from working on the construction site and in the administrative office, to serving on the Events Committee and participating in a Global Village Trip to Guatemala. These days though, she is most often found at the lower register in the ReStore. On Fridays, she runs the cash register, assists customers, puts out merchandise, and engages in her favorite aspect of her work – socializing with customers, fellow volunteers, and staff.

Anytime she has the opportunity, Rhonda recommends others volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. She states that the organization is perfect for adults of any age and any walk of life. According to Rhonda, it is an amazing place for older people to put their lifelong skills to use, especially on the jobsite, and it is a great environment to socialize and make new friends. Rhonda also encourages young people (ages 16+)  to get involved.

“I think it’s important for young people to volunteer because they learn to give back. At a young age, you’re generally very into yourself. And I think it’s a good thing for young people to look outside of themselves. When you’re at a certain age you think your life is terrible…until you get some perspective.”

Rhonda also loves how Habitat gives people the opportunity to learn new skills. In one instance, she was working at a jobsite with a group of nurses with no construction experience; some of whom had never hammered a nail. At the beginning of the day, the women were incredibly nervous about the tasks at hand. But by the end of the day, they had built an entire porch by themselves and were beaming with pride!

It is apparent that Rhonda has a true passion for volunteer work and for Habitat for Humanity. “I really love the whole mission. I love the fact that we help people help themselves. It’s so wonderful to see how we’re changing people’s lives.”

Thank you Rhonda for the twelve years of service you have given to our organization! We appreciate you!

If you would like to volunteer with Asheville Habitat, click here to see the opportunities and sign up.

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.

Inspiring Others Towards Excellence Through Leadership

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by Greta Bush

What do you get when you mix humility, grace, and strong leadership together? One Bill Lineberry. Bill has been a Core volunteer with Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity since 2013, starting on the jobsite, then adding in a role with the Student Build House and finally, joining the Outreach Committee. Bill also volunteers with Western North Carolina Historical Association and has a large role in coordinating speakers and professors for its adult education program.

Bill may not realize this about himself, but when he commits to something, he excels at it, and he subtly encourages others to do the same, simply by leading by example. No matter what role he plays, he seems to have a natural way of raising the bar. After 39 years in the education field—a teacher of American History and Economics for the first 25 years and a principal for the remaining 14—one can see how the years of leadership and excellence have intertwined their way into the core of Bill’s personality. Looking back on his career, Bill said, “It was a wonderful process for me to go from teaching and then leading. I couldn’t have had a better experience for my life.”

I know Bill through Habitat’s Outreach committee; members of the committee are volunteers or Habitat homeowners who represent Habitat to the public in various ways. For example, they might staff an informational table at a service fair or speak to local clubs, faith communities or school groups about what Habitat does. I serve as the staff liaison for the committee, and Bill is one of the star members. (Let’s face it: they’re all stars! I am only somewhat biased.) I have also seen Bill in action with the Student Build—a project I’ll expand on momentarily.

Bill started volunteering with Habitat on the construction site in 2013. It was through his church, First Presbyterian, that he signed up and found himself on our jobsite in Swannanoa. He found the construction supervisors to be so patient and forgiving that he kept coming back, and soon became a Core volunteer, coming every Friday. Of the supervisors, Bill says they “are the best! They are so patient with people like me, who are trying to build skills. And they utilize you and work with you, and when you leave after a day of work, you just feel really good.”

Speaking of being “the best”, Bill has always made a good impression on me. In writing this blog post, I tried to pick that feeling apart—what is it about Bill that makes me gush about what a great volunteer he is? If there is one word I would use to describe him, it’s Excellence.

I’ve noticed that in every role Bill takes, he strives to do his best—he strives for excellence. And, that has led him from one volunteer role to the next. (People start to take notice when you’re good at something!) Soon after becoming a core jobsite volunteer, Bill volunteered to help with the Student Build—another role in which he excels. In that role, among other tasks, he gave public presentations; soon afterward he was nominated for Habitat’s Outreach Committee.

Bill’s previous career benefits him immensely in his roles with the Student Build and Outreach Committee. When he was principal of Woodward Academy in Atlanta (a private school of 2,000 students from pre-K to 12th grade), he led 100 faculty and 25 support staff. He said, “It was a grand affair. I worked 24/7 for fourteen years and loved every minute of it!” On the committee, Bill raises his hand for scenarios that make others nervous—presenting to a crowd of 100 or larger doesn’t faze him. This is one of the ways that Bill makes my job easy. I have full confidence that he will do an excellent job, no matter where we send him to represent Habitat.

When talking with Bill, it’s easy to see that he is most passionate about the Student Build, and he is quick to attribute credit for the project to Charlie Franck (another outstanding core volunteer, who we hope to introduce you to in a later post). The Student Build is, essentially, a coalition of local private schools that raise money and awareness for Habitat (currently Asheville Christian Academy, Christ School,Carolina Day School and The Franklin School of Innovation). They have funded three full-house sponsorships for $55,000 each, and for each build, have provided student volunteers (age 16+) to help build the house. These schools incorporate Habitat and service learning into their curriculum. There is a lot more to it, but that’s the basic explanation.

Bill met Charlie on the jobsite in Swannanoa just after the first Habitat Student Build House had wrapped up, and offered to help on the second house. With his background in education it seemed to be a perfect fit. Now, as we approach the closing of the third Student Build House, Bill is still happily on board. As you would expect from a former teacher, Bill has a desire to see others succeed, and through his involvement with the Student Build, he sees first-hand just how transformative the work with Habitat and the future homeowners has been for the students. Here what he has to say in this video. (His remarks start at 2:40.)

I asked Bill to share with me a particular memory from volunteering that he is fond of. He explained that he can’t share just one moment, because the effect of the Student Build is continuous and encompassing. He said, “I am just blown away, constantly, by how mature these kids are beyond their years. To understand there are needs that people have, and they have a joy of wanting to help meet those needs…every time I see these kids interacting on the jobsite with the new homeowner families, I am just overwhelmed and so happy to be involved and to be a small part of this.

[Along with academics, arts, and athletics] there’s a piece missing in working with kids, and that is, you need to connect with other folks. You need to realize that you’re here by the grace of God to give back, because you’re able to give back. And once we put that piece, now called Service Learning, into our curriculum in my school in Atlanta, we watched kids become adults in front of us. Not just good students in the classroom, wonderful athletes on the athletic field, or musicians and artists. But adults.”

Bill went on to explain that he is seeing that here, too, with all the schools involved. Bill plays an important role with the Student Build. Along with coaching the students on the Student Build Leadership Team, he gives presentations to the schools to help de-mystify Habitat’s work. Affordable homeownership, Asheville’s housing crisis, mortgages…these are not topics that your average elementary-to-high school-aged student thinks about, let alone, understands. But Bill makes it interesting for them, and explains how their fundraising and volunteer work is making a difference in our community. He adds fuel to their fire. And this information has made its way into the school’s curriculum. The work that these students do is impressive. Bill says, “This whole thing has been a real joy.”

Bill and his wife Margie have been married for 43 years and they have have two grown children, Neil and Mary Beth. Bill affirmed that he is a lucky man.

After living in Atlanta for decades, they moved to Asheville to be nearer to family. “When I was growing up as a youngster, I knew I wanted to retire and live in Asheville because we spent a week every summer here for vacation. And I grew up in Wilmington, North Carolina— which is a beautiful place, but it is hot as Hades from April until September!” Growing up without air conditioning, Bill said he didn’t know what he was missing until he came to the mountains and it was so nice and cool at night. “So, I said, sort of subconsciously, this is a place I want to come to.”

It seems Bill has found his stride and is enjoying retirement. And I’m happy that Asheville has become more to him than a place with a temperate climate: it is a place where he continues to make a difference and instill in others a desire to achieve excellence.