By Kara Patterson
RSVP Program Assistant
Greater Fox Cities Area Habitat for Humanity Senior Crew member Bill Stoeger takes seriously his commitment to construction of safe and affordable housing in the community.
“When I retired, I set some goals for myself,” said Stoeger, of Appleton, who started volunteering at Habitat in 2009 and has been an AmeriCorps Seniors volunteer with the Retired & Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) since 2012. “I wanted to give back to the community, wanted to stay fit, wanted to continue learning some things and wanted to stay engaged with people. Habitat fulfilled all those. What could be a better way to spend your time than give somebody a house?”
The agency, whose year-round season includes new construction and rehab projects, partners the power of skilled volunteers with the sweat equity of its homebuyer families as the families work alongside the volunteers on build sites. Habitat Senior Crew members serve in various roles, including on construction sites and in Habitat ReStores, where people can donate and purchase new and gently used building materials and home goods to support Habitat’s mission.
The Habitat Senior Crew, a program of Habitat locally since 1999 and a mainstay of the agency’s trained volunteer workforce, helped sustain Habitat home builds throughout the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We just kept on working and put our masks on,” Stoeger said. “We worked with smaller crews so we could socially distance.”
Jodi Isom, Habitat’s volunteer services director, said the Habitat Senior Crew was on hand throughout most of 2020 even as the organization limited its numbers of volunteers for social distancing safeguards.
“We were going to build 17 homes that year, and we only had to reduce by one,” Isom said. “We literally could not have built 16 homes without the Senior Crew. Many of them were coming out 3 or 4 days a week because they knew we had a need. And also, we were able to keep our ReStores going, which then funnels money into our programs for Habitat.”
Of the 315 registered Habitat Senior Crew volunteers, Isom said, many also are RSVP members. Volunteer Fox Cities, which sponsors RSVP, provides volunteers and support services to nonprofits to help them meet their missions in serving the community.
The Habitat Senior Crew’s life experiences and leadership skills are invaluable, she said.
“They’re our core crew,” Isom said. “They’re the ones who are with us day in and day out. We often call them our elite group because they really are. We provide a lot of training to our Senior Crew. We really invest in that because it provides a lot of returns for us in terms of the work that they’re doing.”
Homebuyer families have formed bonds with the Habitat Senior Crew.
“Our families love working with our Senior Crew,” Isom said. “When the build is over, they miss the Senior Crew. They spend a lot of time building together and they get to know each other really well.”
Prospective Habitat Senior Crew volunteers fill out an interest form and participate in a 30-minute orientation via phone or a Teams meeting.
Volunteer opportunities available on the Habitat Senior Crew are varied, but those of specific need currently include the deconstruction program through ReStore, and site hosting. Deconstruction program volunteers remove and transport items from homes and businesses to donate to the ReStore. As site hosts, volunteers spend half-days on build sites to provide refreshments, assist with registration and carry out other supportive tasks.
To learn more about the Habitat Senior Crew or to volunteer, call/text Isom via phone at 920-544-7856 or email her at email@example.com.