Extensive Habitat Programs Improve our Community, Thanks to Committed Volunteers

By Jeff Zdrale

The most important thing I learned when speaking with Jodi Isom, volunteer services director for the Greater Fox Cities Area Habitat for Humanity (Habitat), is that the scope of their work is HUGE.

The Homebuyer Program, perhaps the most well known, matches volunteers with prospective homeowners. Together they work in the construction of new and rehabilitated homes. Related to this effort is the Home Repair Program. Here Habitat works with low-income families already owning their homes, to do critical repairs. Habitat works with another nonprofit, Rebuilding Together, to provide easy access to “fix up” services for the houses of low-income residents.

RSVP member, Roger Krause, has become a staple for the Habitat Senior Crew.

Habitat also works to support families as they prepare to apply for home construction assistance via its Almost Home Program. Volunteers also work to rehabilitate houses making them ready to serve as rental properties for those people in this program.

Another Habitat effort has the interesting name of Rock the Block. With this program, volunteers seek to revitalize whole neighborhoods. Once one or more residents has applied for this help, a large group of volunteers work for several days to improve the homes, yards and green spaces in the targeted area.

There also are two ReStore sites in the Fox Valley: 3000 E. College Ave, Appleton, and 5402 Integrity Way, Appleton. Many furniture and equipment items are donated, repaired if necessary and then sold at bargain prices.

The last component, Global Homebuilding, is carried out by seasoned volunteers who coordinate the selection and preparation of people who can pay for the opportunity to work outside of the country.

Isom reminded me that most of these efforts involve home construction and improvement carried out by volunteers. There are several types. The first group is called the Senior Crew. These are people of any age who are willing to commit to a regular monthly assignment schedule. There are about 300 people in the Senior Crew, including many members of the Retired & Senior Volunteer 55+ Program. Last year, 35 RSVP members volunteered more than 12,000 hours at Habitat, serving in construction, site support and driving the Habitat truck.

There also are volunteers who choose to work on a more limited time basis. Making up the third type are groups from community organizations.

Businesses, banks and church groups often offer cadres of employees or members to work at one or more sites. Some of the larger companies, such as J.J. Keller, Thrivent and Miller Electric, also have provided financial support as well as people power.

Director Isom told me that certain activities have changed with the COVID pandemic. In addition to having all staff and volunteers follow basic safety precautions, such as wearing gloves and masks, social distancing and sanitizing all equipment items after use, the way that volunteer’s function has changed.

Roger Krause (left) and the Habitat crew take a break at a build site.

For now, only members of the Senior Crew are being asked to work on home construction or repair sites. No more than 10 volunteers are now assigned to a site. Some of the volunteers are working from home on jobs that would normally be done in the Habitat office. Isom plans to phase in a greater number of volunteer workers as conditions change.

One Senior Crew worker who has become a staple in the ranks of the volunteers is Roger Krause. This man completed a 56-year career in truck driving and selling building materials. He didn’t retire until he was 73! Then, after a short break, Roger began as a Habitat volunteer at the age of 75 in 2016. He’s been a regular ever since.

Usually working every Tuesday and Thursday at new construction sites, Roger has brought a wealth of knowledge and skill to Habitat. Yet, he still has gone through several Habitat classes to brush up or to learn something new. Roger has seen some changes since the start of the COVID shutdown.

“There are fewer workers on a shift now,” Roger says. “Remember, we had a two-month shutdown and now we’re making up for lost time. So, we have fewer people with more work to do.”

In speaking with Roger, it was clear, however, that this gentleman is effective and really enjoys the contribution he’s been making.

Isom described the training offered to volunteers in more detail. Short half-day or whole-day hands-on classes usually are offered during February at the warehouse they use on the Menasha side of Fox Crossing. Many topics are offered, such as laying out walls, installing siding and finishing work.

The need for volunteers continues. People wanting to work on a one-time or limited basis can sign up and get all needed instructions by visiting the Habitat website at www.foxcitieshabitat.org. Individual interviews are offered to those seeking to become members of the Senior Crew. The Habitat office is at 921 Midway Road, Menasha and Jodi Isom can be contacted at jodii@foxcitieshabitat.org or 920-544-7856.

Hurray for the homes that Habitat provides!

Editor’s note: Jeff Zdrale is a member of RSVP and the RSVP Community Council.