Volunteer Spotlight: Sandy Gustin

Volunteer Sandy Gustin came to Habitat in an unconventional way, but our construction volunteers (and everyone else here at Our Towns) are sure glad she did!

One of Sandy’s favorite pastimes is walking. She used to walk 2-4 miles every day when she lived in Albany, New York. However, after knee surgery, she could no longer be as active as she would have liked and began to spend a lot of time in her house. Caring neighbors asked her to accompany them on a trip to North Carolina, where their son and Sandy’s daughter also lived. When she got here, her daughter would not let her return to New York, and Sandy has been a happy resident of North Carolina for the past six years.

After moving here, Sandy met Cathy Petriano, Our Towns Habitat’s volunteer program manager. At that time, Sandy had become involved with the North Meck Senior Center. The senior center had endured some hard financial times, but pulled through thanks to support from the local community. The seniors decided they wanted to find a way to give back to the community that had helped them, and Sandy immediately thought of Our Towns Habitat.
“I told them not many of us can climb ladders, but what can we do to help you? They immediately said ‘snacks!’”

Sandy and 20 other volunteers who come to the senior center, bake and prepare snacks every single week, twice a week for the construction crew. Often times, Sandy delivers them by hand herself.

“When I first started delivering the snacks, my favorite part was seeing those guys come down off their ladders to see what I had,” Sandy said with a big smile on her face. She explained how much the overwhelming gratitude meant to her.

When Sandy is not volunteering, she still loves to walk, and Our Towns Habitat is lucky to have had such a wonderful and giving volunteer “walk” into our lives!

Volunteers Build Stronger Communities

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Volunteerism heals communities and it also benefits the individuals who practice it. Americans have a heart for volunteerism. Abraham Lincoln knew that well when he addressed those standing at Gettysburg with the famous phrase:

This nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Except for “I love you,” the words, “by the people,” are probably the three most powerful words in the English language.

Benjamin Franklin started the first volunteer fire department staffed entirely “by the people” of New England. The men who fought the first fires in America would become the volunteer army that ultimately won our freedom.

Other organizations like The Red Cross, The Salvation Army and the YMCA were started shortly after the Civil War “by the people” who wanted to heal the hurts of humanity in tangible ways.

Habitat for Humanity has become the sixth largest homebuilder in America “by the people” who give of their time and money to create a world where everyone has a decent place to live.
Americans still love to volunteer. According to VolunteerMatch.org, “Americans volunteered nearly 8 billion hours of their time to local and national causes. Today nearly one in four Americans, an estimated 64.3 million people, have served as volunteers.”

Last year, more than 2,550 individuals volunteered over 50,000 hours at Our Towns Habitat for Humanity on construction jobs, in the ReStore and as part of our office staff. In this newsletter, you’ll find a story of one volunteer who helped the best way she knew how—by bringing homemade cookies and brownies to us on a weekly basis for our Saturday volunteers.

You can volunteer anywhere in Habitat. Check out our website at www.ourtownshabitat.orgfor volunteer opportunities or call us at 704-896-8957 and ask for Cathy Petriano at ext. 108 to volunteer on a construction project, or Rosemary Pitts at ext. 202 to volunteer in the ReStore.

Please plan to volunteer at least one time between now and the end of September. Volunteer on something outside of your comfort zone. Come to the ReStore or pick up a hammer and help us build a home.

Chris Cashwell, one of our regular construction leaders says of his volunteerism, “I always get more out of a day at Habitat than I give.” That is a lot.

I am grateful for you all,
Jeff Porter

Summer Provides College Students Opportunities for Learning, Service

The back to school shopping is done, the smiling photos have been taken, and students are settling back into the learning routine. For many college students, though, summer presents its own learning opportunities, as was the case for four collegiate volunteers who spent much of their break helping support Our Towns Habitat’s mission, and gaining some valuable experience at the same time.

A junior at Virginia Tech, Alexa Johnson, spent much of her summer in Davidson helping in our marketing and communications office. She has written many of the blog posts from the past 2 months, worked on the newsletter formatting and content, developed social media posts, and taken photos at the Learn and Build programs, dedications, and to promote the ReStore.

Alex Bowen, a junior at Norwich University in Vermont, has volunteered with Our Towns Habitat for the past two summers gaining construction experience. He works on site, often filling the absence of Americorps volunteers. He does any and every job on the worksite, makes sure the truck and the tools get to the site, and hosts volunteers when they arrive. “He is a phenomenal help, he does everything without complaint,” says Site Supervisor Dave Chapman.

Dax Peters, a recent Appalachian State graduate, spent the summer getting additional experience by volunteering with our family services department, with a focus on the educational portion of our mission. She took over the Learn and Build program at local libraries, updated our informational presentations for homeowner education classes, and put together financial education packages aimed to teach children about finances, which were distributed to teachers. Peters also painted a beautiful mural in our office conference room as a project to showcase photos of our newest homeowners—stop by to take a look!

Nico Herndon, also worked with family services, as part of a fellowship at Davidson College. He researched the Statesville area, collecting data about housing need, income difference across the area and the median year houses were built. He also researched different resources available for people of different age groups. He created a resource manual for families and put together packages that go to families when they apply for our repair program that contain information, resources and tips on how to maintain their repairs.

We hope our student volunteers gained as much from their experience helping Our Towns Habitat as gained from having them here, and wish them the best of luck in their future endeavors!

A Promise Fulfilled with a Pledge for Tomorrow

By becoming a homeowner through Habitat, Darren is fulfilling a promise he made to his wife when he first proposed to her.

“I promised her that we wouldn’t always be living in an apartment and we would have a home of our own,” Darren said.

Dedicating their new home represented not only that promise fulfilled, but a pledge to the next generation, Darren and Janice’s three young children—Zilvia, 8, Kamaria, 7, and De’ron, 5.
“This gives them a home they can grow up in—from kids to when they’re grown up and moving out of the house,” Darren said. “It is important for kids to have something solid.”

Both Darren and Janice grew up in subsidized housing, and have lived in subsidized housing for most of their marriage. No one in either of their families has ever owned their own home. But the couple had a dream to be self-reliant, and set an example for their kids to reach for something more.

Even after they were accepted into our program, the road to becoming homeowners has not been easy. When they first entered the program, the family lived in the apartment community just across the way. But when their lease came up for renewal, their landlord hiked their rent to nearly $1,000 a month.

That rent was simply out of reach, and the family had to move into another rental home, with poor living conditions. Still, the couple reminded themselves that it was temporary, and kept their eyes on the prize of a new home they would own. Then they were hit with more financial hardships, and at one point were ready to give up. But Darren says God brought them through that, knowing there was something better coming.

That something better came in the form of a phone call from Manny Rosado, our construction supervisor. He called Darren and Janice that day with good news—we had a lot for them and were ready to start building. After the lot was cleared and the foundation dug, the whole family came out to see what would be their new home—still just a hole in the ground at that point. But they practically danced around that home in celebration.

The couple threw themselves in to the construction process for their home, sponsored by the Town of Mooresville. They now feel confident that their experience building their own house has prepared them for minor repairs that will be needed down the road—although Janice admits she still hasn’t completely gotten the hang of swinging a hammer yet!

Darren and Janice are looking forward to paying less for a mortgage on a new home than they’re paying in rent for an unlivable home. That savings will afford them the opportunity to do things like take trips together with their kids.

They’re still getting used to the idea and have to remember to use the right word—but they’re practicing. “It’s so much better to say mortgage than rent,” Darren said.

July Marks Three Home Dedications

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In the month of July, Our Towns Habitat was blessed to hand over the keys to three families who partnered with us to build their new, affordable homes.

At the beginning of the month, the new home of Billy and Patsy was dedicated. Not only is this new home more affordable for the couple, with its absence of stairs, it is much more accommodating for Patsy, who has had two knee surgeries and heart failure. Because of Patsy’s physical limitations, Billy has put in most of the “sweat equity” hours and has learned a lot. After working on his house, Billy feels confident that he can maintain their new home. Our Towns Habitat has made financial stability possible for the couple, who will no longer have to live paycheck to paycheck. “God has blessed us with this house,” Patsy said.

The couple’s house was sponsored by the Wildcat Davidson College Habitat for Humanity campus chapter as well as Davidson College Presbyterian Church.

About a week later, Carmen and her daughter, Daniella received their own set of keys. After financial struggles in Carmen’s home state of New York put the mother and daughter in a homeless shelter for six months, Carmen searched for a way out, and found one in North Carolina, where she moved to be with family. Still needing affordable housing, Carmen learned about Habitat. She applied—and was eventually accepted— to be a Habitat homeowner. After this long journey, not only does Carmen now have a safe and affordable place for her and her daughter to live and a yard for Daniella to play in, but she has restored faith in God. “In New York, I was to a point where I questioned God, and my faith was so low,” Carmen said. “Now being here and realizing God has made my life better, I put my life in His hands.”

Carmen’s house was sponsored by the Women Build team and Leon Levine Foundation.

We rounded out the month with a third dedication for Barbara. At her former home, Barbara worried about the safety of her 8-year-old son, Armani. After moving into a house closer to Armani’s grandmother, the family was uprooted when the landlord decided she wanted to move back into the house where Barbara and her family were living. They moved in with family, having to put many of their belongings in storage. In her new house, Barbara will have an affordable mortgage and a safe place for her son and 16-year-old niece Hydeia. Barbara gave much of her time putting in her sweat equity hours while balancing a full-time job, and was overwhelmingly thankful for those who volunteered their time. “I want to thank all the volunteers who came out to help me build my house—they selflessly gave up their weekends and their time.”

Barbara’s house was sponsored by First Presbyterian Church of Statesville, Western Ave Baptist Church, Trinity Episcopal Church, Broad Street United Methodist Church, Wells Fargo, Kewaunee Scientific Corp., and Toter/Wastequip.