“So Why Do You Do It?” by John Hargrove

“So Why Do You Do It?”

As a fairly new member of the retired fraternity of Rockford, I was told by many friends, both working and retired, that I might find it hard to “stay busy” in retirement. My first reaction to such warning comments was “you’ve got to be kidding.” I had just finished a rewarding 42 year management career in retail, and my last concern was worrying about how I might fill up each day in retirement.

After a few months of well deserved leisure time, which included the reading of several books, dabbling in some family history research, and in general not being tied so closely to an overwhelming daily calendar of tasks, I did find myself thinking about what I wanted to do with this new gift of time. I determined I really didn’t simply need items to fill a weekly “to-do” list, but I needed to get involved in activities that allowed me to apply my work and life experiences.

That’s when I met a guy. While doing some volunteer work for my church, I met a really nice guy who happened to be on the Board of Directors of the local Rockford area Habitat for Humanity affiliate. As he told me about his activities and experiences with Habitat for Humanity, I heard about a volunteer opportunity that sounded like a good fit for me. After some further investigation, I was asked to become a member of their Board of Directors.

As I enter my third year with the affiliate, I share my experiences with others who I hope will consider becoming involved in the great work of our Habitat for Humanity affiliate. When I talk about our affiliate, I often get asked “So why do you volunteer at Habitat?” After thinking about that question, here are some answers:

1. It’s Important – I fully support the approach that Habitat for Humanity takes to help those in need. We help provide the opportunity for a deserving family to purchase their first home and provide their family with their first ever safe home of their own – it’s life changing.

2. It’s the Right Approach – As we all learn new ways to provide care, support and opportunities for families in need, we are becoming more aware how hand-out and giveaway programs are not only ineffective, they are “toxic.” I am proud to align my support, time and efforts to our local Habitat for Humanity affiliate because their approach has always been to offer a hand up, but never a hand out. Our partner families are required to become personally invested in the process of becoming a home owner through their own sweat equity, and by educating themselves to prepare themselves for the new responsibilities of home ownership.

3. It’s Needed – We all know some families who have so many challenges in their lives, that they are often never given an opportunity to get out of a unsafe or unhealthy housing situation. I have seen how these families can turn their futures around after becoming an owner of a Habitat home.

4. It’s Personal – When you volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, you get to meet, work with, and get to know some wonderful families. You get to know their children, their parents, and you get to see their great potential and how owning a safe and healthy house changes the lives of several generations of their family.

5. It’s the People – Volunteer work puts you side by side with some of the nicest, most generous people I’ve ever met. The volunteers with the Rockford Area Habitat for Humanity affiliate have big hearts, great talents, and a real commitment to making a positive difference in the lives of families in our great city. I’ve learned a lot from this interesting cast of volunteers, and they have inspired me to do more to support positive, lasting improvements in our great community.

That’s why I volunteer at our local Habitat for Humanity affiliate. If you are looking for a meaningful volunteer opportunity, consider investing some of your time at our ReStore retail outlet on Riverside, as a Weekday Wonder who helps build our houses every summer, or by supporting this deserving not-for-profit with your wallet. I urge you to jump in and get involved – you won’t be disappointed!

John Hargrove – 2015/2016 Vice President, Board of Directors

A safe, stable home to call one’s own- Michael’s Story.

We walk into the apartment and our eyes immediately fall on two little girls in matching red shirts. One of the girls, Aryana, tells us she and her sister are in kindergarten. Made brave by this announcement, she draws out a beat-up, beet-red toy cell phone from a holster near her hip and hands it to me to admire. I tell her that it’s nicer than my phone, and her laugh reveals a front-tooth-less grin. Her dad, Michael, a clearly kind and gentle soul, tenderly tells the girls that the adults need to sit down to talk. As we gather around the living room, the girls continue to periodically come over and touch their father’s hand or arm or knee in soft gestures of childish love.

While the atmosphere is made safe by the small family’s love, the apartment itself is anything but. Our short tour of the apartment reveals a stray bullet hole in the living room window, an air conditioning unit teetering precariously in a molding wall, and a decaying kitchen floor that lurches dangerously under our weight. Michael pays $150 more per month for this apartment than he would for his Habitat mortgage. What’s more, Michaels’ situation is far from an anomaly— in any given year, we will visit dozens of apartments as substandard as, if not worse than, Michael’s. These home visits—a requirement to be accepted into our housing program— never fail to remind us of the enormity of the need for safe, decent housing in our community.

While it can be daunting to acknowledge the extent of the need in our community for safe housing, Habitat also knows that we can change— and have changed— the landscape of affordable housing in this city one house at a time. Housing is a central concern for all families, everywhere. Home is the central place where families conduct their lives. It is where they get ready to have a successful day at school or work, where they come together to eat meals, and where they lay their heads at night. So much more than a mere structure, our home is the very context of our lives. In a recent survey, we asked our homeowners to share their observations about changes in their children’s health since moving into their Habitat home. Of those who responded, 72% reported a decrease in illnesses like asthma and allergies in their children since moving into their Habitat homes. One homeowner wrote: “We are stable now. We are not moving from place to place, always keeping half of our stuff in boxes. My son no longer has asthma attacks from mold and dirty carpets… My daughter is playing outside more.” Perhaps the most significant investment we can make towards a strong community is in one of the most basic needs that exists: a safe, stable home to call one’s own.