At a time of high unemployment, rising costs of housing, food, and other necessities, more and more families across the United States struggle to find and maintain adequate, safe, and affordable housing. Families live on the brink of personal housing crises and risk homelessness[i]. Dreams of homeownership as an exit to this cycle are bleak for many.
Enter IVC partner agency Habitat for Humanity of Omaha.
Habitat for Humanity partners with working families to put them on the path to homeownership. Selected families provide 350 “sweat-equity” hours, working side-by-side with volunteers in home construction, to earn their new homes. Homeowners pay interest-free mortgages, which keeps payments affordable to pay off the mortgage in 30 years. “Our community development work is done from a holistic standpoint to build up families and neighborhoods”, states Tracie McPherson, Director of Communications for Habitat Omaha, an affiliate that builds 33 homes annually.
Seven Ignatian Volunteers support Habitat Omaha’s work.
IVC Regional Director Becky Ehrman describes volunteers “standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the mission”. Each volunteer contributes a unique professional skill set and builds Habitat Omaha’s capacity, allowing Habitat Omaha to use their resources directly addressing housing needs, describes Ehrman.
Jerry Heinrichs has volunteered with Habitat for Humanity of Omaha for 20 years, and began his weekly commitment through IVC when he founded the IVC Omaha region in 2007. In addition to his longstanding work leading a coalition of churches to build one home each year, Jerry contributes the expertise of his 40-year commercial real estate career. Through IVC, he is Habitat’s Realtor, and has purchased 130 building lots, 2 warehouse and office spaces, and 2 retail locations for Habitat ReStores. “Service with IVC and Habitat has been a way for me to transition into retirement.”
Jerry has just been recognized by Habitat for starting their innovative demolition program. Habitat acquires the deeds of dilapidated and boarded homes in the neighborhoods where new Habitat homes are being constructed, tears them down, and rebuilds new homes, adding to the value and safety of these neighborhoods.When asked why he has served with IVC and Habitat for Humanity for so many years and what sustains him, Jerry states, “I believe in giving back. At my age, this work all fits really well. I’m very busy and never bored. When you’re busy doing good things, I call the rewards ‘psychic income’. I get a lot of it!”Jerry was the first IVC volunteer in Omaha to work with Habitat Omaha and now is joined by 6 others.
Joan Fangman uses her expertise from a career in nonprofit accounting in Habitat for Humanity’s finance office. She states, “All those I work with at Habitat-Omaha truly live their mission each and every day. Their service to others is unparalleled in my experience. After being immersed in this kind and welcoming service for the past two years, it is so obvious to me that I have been blessed to receive abundantly more than I can give. I find it so invigorating for this retiree, and I’m grateful!”
Gene Ferrell has been an Ignatian Volunteer at Habitat Omaha for one year, and works in a human resources capacity, bringing his expertise of a full career in this arena.
“My volunteer activities this year for Habitat Omaha have been very rewarding and I have received more from them than my contributions to the wonderful staff and family partners. We worked on the hiring and orientation of the staff for the new ReStore in west Omaha, I attended job fairs, scheduled employment interviews and assisted in the processing of the new employees. The profits from the ReStore financially support the operations and building of homes for the poor in Omaha. We also processed the very complicated disbursement paperwork from the Topeka Federal Home Loan Bank. These disbursements allow the Family Partners to reduce the cost of purchasing their homes by $10,000 each. Habitat Omaha provides caring and loving support to the Family Partners. I am blessed to be a small part of this organization,” states Gene.
Habitat’s McPherson explains that families who apply to Habitat for Humanity often have children, and one or two parents work full time but do not earn enough money to rent a safe, adequate apartment with enough space. Many live in overcrowded rental units or in another family’s basement, with parents and children sharing sleeping space or sleeping on sofas and floors. This is especially true of refugee families served by Habitat, in which large extended families often live together. These temporary housing solutions work as people try to make ends meet, but cause a strain on the families and can be health hazards. These are the situations that Habitat Omaha addresses, with Ignatian Volunteer support.
Habitat Omaha has requested additional Ignatian Volunteers each year. There are 4 new volunteers working with Habitat this year: Lee Galles in the Finance Department, Joe Campagna in the Habitat ReStore, Julie Dodd in Public Relations, and Pat Nilius working in Administration.
This partnership has been fruitful for all involved – for the families served by Habitat for Humanity of Omaha, for their organization, and for the many IVC Volunteers placed there. Keep up the great work!
[i] For more, read “The State of the Nation’s Housing 2011”, the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, http://www.jchs.harvard.edu/research/publications/state-nation%E2%80%99s-housing-2011