Habitat for Humanity is probably the most familiar housing ministry in the United States. Throughout the world, Habitat lives out its mission:
“Seeking to put God’s love into action, Habitat for Humanity brings people together to build homes, communities and hope.”
Habitat believes that every man, woman and child should have a decent, safe and affordable place to live.
Habitat for Humanity has been building homes for Blount County families for over 20 years—currently, they are providing 10 homes per year in our county. Local volunteers provide the vast majority of the labor needed to build each home. Anyone can volunteer on a construction site—you don’t have to have power tools or know how to build a wall. And what’s really amazing is that community volunteers work alongside the future homeowners. Each partner family is required to complete 400 hours of “sweat equity,” putting their own time and hard work into their home.
Susan Hughes, Blount Habitat’s Faith Relations Director/Volunteer Coordinator, explains that “at Habitat we like to say that we are a ‘hand up’, not a ‘hand out.’ Homeowners go through budgeting and maintenance classes, and they put in 300 – 450 hours worth of ‘sweat equity’ working on their home and other houses, and volunteering at the ReStore and with the whole organization.”
Over a dozen members of the Maryville Vineyard participated in Habitat’s “Faith Build” project in late fall of last year, joining several local congregations in an effort to build one house over the course of two months. Vineyard members from various small groups got their hands dirty with this project; their tasks ranged from pouring a concrete stoop for the back deck, to caulking and painting inside the house, to roofing an outbuilding behind the house.
Females of Faith group leader Rebecca McNeill chose the Faith Build for her group’s community service project because she had worked with Habitat before and “loved their mission and the service they provide to our community.” Working for a few hours might just feel like a drop in the bucket, but every door painted and every shingle nailed on puts a family one step closer to moving into its own home.
Christina Reno, a member of the Females of Faith group at the Vineyard, said she is excited at the possibility of working on another Faith Build, although it was not quite what she expected. “This desk job girl,” she explained, “had some soreness from the work performed that day!” Reno expected to paint walls, something she’s fairly comfortable with, but ended up mixing and pouring concrete. Reno enjoyed the challenge and emphasized that the project made a big difference in her life: “It educated me on the program and I’m looking forward to consistently volunteering my time to such a great program that gives people a chance to have a better life.”
If building a house isn’t your thing, Habitat has other ways volunteers can plug in. The Habitat ReStore, located near the Foothills Mall, is a valuable asset for our community. It is so much more than just a thrift store. Their motto is “A good deal for you, your community and the environment.”
The ReStore helps reduce the amount of waste that goes to our landfill by providing a place for people to donate items. Many items can be donated, including electronics, books, furniture, seasonal decorations, appliances, housewares, bedding, jewelry, tools, building supplies, clothing, and more. The items that can be sold are placed out on the sales floor. The best part about shopping at the ReStore is that every penny spent there stays in our community. That money then goes to help finance new Habitat home builds in our community, as well as remodeling and repairs to existing homes.
But before items appear on the shop floor, each has to be inspected and sorted by volunteers. Behind the scenes at the Habitat ReStore, volunteers whittle away at endless piles of organized chaos: bags of clothes in a mountain that nearly reaches the ceiling, electronics that need to be tested and appliances that need unloaded from trucks. If items are donated that are unable to be sold they are given to other organizations to be recycled, re-purposed, or reused.
During the last part of 2013 Maryville Vineyard had its first small group volunteer. Kristina Morrison reported that she and her fellow group members were “overwhelmed” after a quick tour of the ReStore’s back rooms and had no idea where to start. “One of the biggest needs,” she explained, “was hanging clothes, so that is what we did. In four hours, four of us hung over six racks of clothes and helped get the sales floor ready for the upcoming sale.”
Hanging clothes is just one step in the process of making donations to salable items. Before the volunteers drew the clothes from the bins, other volunteers had to stack bags of clothes, unpack and inspect each article of clothing, and toss each article into its appropriate bin (men’s pants, women’s tops, etc.).
It’s an endless process. Volunteers are always needed and much appreciated at the Habitat ReStore. Since that first experience, a group from Maryville Vineyard has been meeting every Saturday morning from 9-11 to volunteer at the ReStore. It’s not a glorious job, this sorting through of other people’s discarded items, but it is one that fills a tremendous need in our community.
If wielding a hammer or sorting sweaters isn’t feasible for you, how about wrapping presents? Blount County Habitat holds an annual fundraiser in December that depends entirely on volunteers. Throughout the month, volunteers wrap gifts all day, every day, at the Foothills Mall for shoppers in exchange for monetary donations. All proceeds go to our local Habitat.
The Parents of Teens group at the Vineyard spent one Saturday in December cutting, wrapping, taping, and sticking bows on Christmas presents. Group member Donna Williams noted that she enjoyed talking to people as they prepared for Christmas, including people who were buying gifts for needy families in Blount County. After the season, Susan Hughes, Habitat’s volunteer coordinator, reported that over $9,000 had been raised through the gift-wrapping program.
Pouring cement, hanging blouses, and wrapping packages: all of these are small jobs that make a big difference in the lives of needy families in Blount County. Habitat for Humanity’s mission to “put God’s love into action” is one that relies almost entirely on people just like these Vineyard small group members—people who are willing to give a few hours of their time to serve.
Volunteering at Habitat isn’t limited to participating in a small group. The need is ongoing, both with home builds and at the ReStore. If you’d like to get involved with building homes or volunteering at the office, please email Susan Hughes – firstname.lastname@example.org or call (865) 233-9106. If you’d like to help out at the ReStore, email Christina Jenkins at email@example.com or call the ReStore at (865) 379-9299.