On any given Saturday during the summer and fall, you can find a crew of 8-12 people working together on something that will change the life of a family forever—a house. Though they are largely unfamiliar with construction, these volunteers’ enthusiasm and passion, along with their willingness to give a few hours to raise walls, install windows, put on a roof, or side a house, are what make Habitat for Humanity’s homeownership program work. The hours that these volunteers donate, approximately 2,000 per house, are invaluable in creating affordable homeownership opportunities for the homebuyers who qualify for the program.
People become passionate about Habitat for Humanity’s work for a number of reasons. Some find Habitat through their church’s participation in a build project, Habitat’s Christian mission inspires their service. Others are seeking experiences with construction and see building a Habitat house as a way to piece together that education while helping the community. And often, they also seek out Habitat because of an experience in their life, something they have overcome, or a skill they want to share and they were moved by a story they heard about a homebuyer.
I fall into that last group; I grew up in substandard housing and was able to overcome obstacles to create a life for my own family that doesn’t perpetuate poverty. When happenstance connected me to Habitat for Humanity Lansing, I had the overwhelming feeling of, “Wow, this is where I am supposed to be!” I’m grateful for that every day when I go to work. I have to opportunity to empower people to change their lives.
Having worked in homeownership services at Habitat Lansing for 10 years, I’ve more than once encountered people who challenge Habitat’s mission by pointing out that there are more than enough houses in Lansing, so we shouldn’t be building new houses. And it is true, there are a lot of houses in Lansing. However, I know that our community’s housing stock needs improvement, and there are few existing, affordable houses that can accommodate large families or people who have special needs.
As we work through the applications, we often see the worst-of-the-worst rental property. Trisha, now a homeowner, added a second layer of vinyl flooring in the kitchen of her rental house hoping that the reinforcement would keep her from falling through the floor while she did dishes; the wood underneath was rotten from years of water damage due to the neglectful landlord not repairing the leaky plumbing.
A homebuyer with whom we are building right now is living in an apartment building that becomes infested with bees each summer. She is allergic, and the landlord fails each year to take care of the problem quickly or permanently. Our volunteer team went out to interview Mary, an applicant at the time, on a snowy winter day. The volunteers’ notes on the visit pointed out that they could see snow falling through the spaces around the old windows in the house where Mary and her seven children were living. Those are just a few stories this Habitat affiliate has encountered. Affiliates in other cities around Michigan and across the country see cases like this—or worse—every day.
That was sort of a downer, wasn’t it? It is sad and sort of overwhelming. It seems like a giant problem that no one can possibly solve, but that’s where passion and commitment come into play and can truly make a difference! Like any challenge, there are always creative solutions to eliminate it a bit at a time, and that’s exactly how Habitat works.
Habitat for Humanity was founded in 1976 by Millard and Linda Fuller after visiting a small, interracial, Christian community outside of Americus, Georgia called Koinonia Farm. Having been disappointed by the affluent lifestyle they’d previously lived, they began a new life of Christian service. While at Koinonia, they developed a concept of “partnership housing,” which centered on assisting those in need of adequate shelter by working side by side with volunteers to build simple, decent houses.
This model of houses built at no profit and sold to qualified low-income people via no interest loans spread and Habitat affiliates started forming all over the world. From that simple concept, Habitat for Humanity grew. And grew. There are currently 1,526 affiliates in the U.S. and another 550 around the world. It continues to work; Habitat has built and rehabilitated more than 500,000 decent, affordable homes worldwide, housing more than 2.5 million people.
Habitat for Humanity is unique in many ways, but in truth, the core of what we do—changing lives—can be found in many organizations throughout our cities, our nation, and our world. If you have the desire to serve, to give something of yourself to help the greater good, there is a cause that needs your passion. Habitat affiliates are blessed to find dedicated volunteers who want to empower families by improving their housing, their home base for success and happiness. It’s just a piece of the puzzle to facilitating real change in our world.
The messages we often receive are to work harder, compete, do whatever you have to do, etc. In my job, however, I see a very different reality. I see volunteers giving their time and talent to help us serve more local people in need of improved housing. I see them working hard, getting dirty, and even reaching out of their comfort zone while working side by side with our homebuyers toward a tangible outcome.
At the end of the day, they see progress on what will become a home. They have experienced teamwork, learned new skills, and met other volunteers. And they are excited about it and proud of what they accomplished. This is what brings many volunteers back to Habitat and sparks their passion about our work… seeing change at the end of their shift and knowing those hours made a difference.
From the beginning, Habitat for Humanity’s relationships with faith communities have been crucial to our ability to do this work. Locally, approximately 95% of the houses built and rehabilitated by Habitat Lansing over the past 25 years were sponsored by churches. Usually those partnerships are formed locally, but recently national initiatives have helped build a lot of homes. This is an excellent example of the power in collaborative partnerships to help address poverty and housing needs.
For the past seven years, Habitat for Humanity International’s partnership with Thrivent Financial for Lutherans has provided funding and volunteer hours to build and rehabilitate 1,600 Habitat homes. Habitat Lansing is one of many affiliates that have participated in Thrivent Builds every year since the program started.
People often talk about six degrees of separation, but it is often true that there are only one or two degrees of separation between someone who is already involved with a program like ours and someone who has had a place in their heart for the work but just needs to be connected.
A great example of this is Dr. Bob Fabiano of PAR Rehab Services in Lansing. Dr. Fabiano was introduced to us just last year by a former board member. Since that time, his band, Dr. Fab and the Off the Couch Band, has played at several fundraising and friendraising events, he has connected Habitat with countless event sponsors, and he has recruited his friends and colleagues to participate in our events. Habitat Lansing’s staff has playfully nicknamed him our “Rockstar Volunteer.” The relationship with Dr. Fabiano is proof that one person can make a huge difference, and that we can always use more “friends of friends.”
Take a moment and think about the areas of your life about which you are passionate. What are your unique talents and interests? How can you change the life of someone else, your community, or the world with those? By finding your niche at any organization that serves the causes close to your heart! Be creative!
Habitat is known for building houses, but there are lots of other ways to help our mission. Volunteers help with homebuyer selection, property acquisition, faith relations, and more. Every organization has behind-the-scenes work, and you may have the interest and passion they need to get it done.
Habitat for Humanity, like many other service organizations, also found that as it grew, as that passion ignited and took hold, other needs could begin to be addressed. For instance, Habitat Lansing is one of many affiliates that has a ReStore, which is a place where people can come to buy affordable home improvement materials. In Lansing, we also have a Fix-Up Program, which specializes in allowing people to stay in their homes by providing affordable accessibility solutions like ramps and grab bars.
Habitat International has launched a program called Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative (NRI), which focuses on partnering with neighborhoods to improve housing, land use, and safety by offering a wider array of services including critical repairs, weatherization, homeowner education, and advocacy. Habitat affiliates across the state and country are embracing NRI, which brings many opportunities for volunteers to engage in new ways.
There is a joy that results from volunteering that can only be experienced from those actions. When you spend your time and talent with the intention to benefit others, you may go into the experience thinking that you are giving something of yourself. What you discover along the way is that what you get back is actually much, much more than you give.
Habitat Lansing Volunteers
All Habitat for Humanity Lansing volunteers are required to complete an orientation; most do this online. Here are the directions for online orientation:
- Go to www.habitatlansing.org and click on Get Involved (in the box on the left side of the page).
- Click Volunteer Calendar (in the box on the left) for individual and then New Volunteer Registration.
- Enter a log-in (could be an e-mail address) and a password, fill in the blanks, and then click submit form.
- Log back in to fill out the skills page. Save entries.
- Look on the far left column and click Orientation. Please read and answer questions.
- Click to continue with liability waiver, print it, sign it, date it, and send it to Habitat Lansing, 1941 Benjamin Dr., Lansing, MI 48906 or fax it to (517) 374-6279.
Once you have completed orientation, you can look for construction crew openings on the Volunteer Calendar or contact Ginny at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss other volunteer opportunities. You can also contact Ginny if you are unable to complete orientation online.
For More Information
Habitat for Humanity Lansing
Habitat for Humanity of Greater Ingham County (rural Ingham County)
Habitat for Humanity Huron Valley (Ann Arbor area)
Kalamazoo Valley Habitat for Humanity (Kalamazoo area)
Habitat for Humanity Detroit
Habitat for Humanity Oakland County
Habitat for Humanity of Western Wayne
To find other Michigan Habitat affiliates