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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.

(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.

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.

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.