This reflection on 2020 was written by Keri Asevedo, Executive Director of Rockford Area Habitat for Humanity
What an incredible year it’s been for Rockford Area Habitat for Humanity – filled with generosity, compassion, dedication, and some good old fashioned grit. I presume that not every non-profit or small business can say the same of 2020, but for us this year has been a time to learn, a time to grow, and a time to focus on the good stuff. So sit back, relax, and let me share with you my perspective on 2020.
1) Early in the year we got to close on Julia’s new home – a place where she and her son could safely shelter in place. A place that she gets to call her own.
2) We finished our first ever Community Build – where you, our supporters— built Tamika’s home from the ground up! The Community Build was conceived by this idea that there were more volunteers than there was work, and so we added a build to our 2019 schedule and you showed up – all year long – helping us finish the home in 2020!
3) In March, we celebrated with one of our homeowners, Tikisha Ellis, as she most deservedly was recognized by the YWCA for the Promise Award at the Women of Achievement luncheon. Tikisha’s drive to build a better life for her and her daughter Faith are what won her that honor, and we’re proud of the leadership and service she provides to our community every day.
4) We welcomed 6 new homebuyers to our program in March, giving them their new address and the floor plans to their new life. During that orientation, we introduced each homebuyer to their mentor – another Habitat homeowner who has been through the program and had agreed to help them on their journey.
5) Later in March we got to come back to the closing table, but this time for Raven and her family. There’s something so powerful about being a part of that process for our homebuyers. There’s so much excitement in the air – you can almost feel it.
6) Our partnership with Guilford High School continued to grow in 2020 when we had a record number of students enroll in the class that ultimately gets to build a Habitat house from the ground up. The students worked hard to build a brand new floor plan for Candi and her family, and we continued to be amazed at the leadership of their teacher Mark and all those involved from Guilford High School and RPS 205.
7) The “itch” to work with Habitat grew to East High School in 2020, and we came up with a plan to build another home for a deserving family with the help of RPS students. The administration at East saw this partnership as a win-win and so did Habitat – so we launched our inaugural partnership with East High School.
8) We worked with our partners at Northwest Bank Rockford to secure federal funding through the CARES act to ensure that the important work we do on behalf of our families didn’t stop. Their partnership has meant the world to us over the years and we’re thankful for their guidance during some difficult days.
9) We launched our new online ReStore so that during the shutdown people could still get what they needed as they worked on their home improvement projects. Getting to work through a new process like that taught us a lot – and we’re grateful for the opportunity to learn and grow.
10) In June, after a few months of delay, we broke ground on 3 new homes for Josell, Ally, and Jackie. We worked alongside dedicated volunteers who risked a lot to help us build homes in a time of crisis for our community and our country. We owe a lot to the dedication of our house leaders and our Weekday Wonders – they single handedly built those homes with grace and love.
11) We launched our Diversity, Equity & Inclusion committee in the summer of 2020, with the idea that together we could work to find solutions to problems that affect our homeowners and our community. More than 15 people stepped up to the plate to be a part of the committee and we hit the ground running. We launched an educational series for the community and are working on building capacity of our board and staff to ensure that we’re part of the solution and not a part of the problem.
12) In June, we were thrilled to celebrate with Chuck and Stella Schroeder as they received the Rockford Rotary Service Above Self Award. No one puts this community above themselves more than Chuck and Stella. Long time volunteers of our organization in many different capacities, this was an easy nomination for RAHFH to make!
13) After being closed for over 10 weeks, we re-opened the ReStore – welcoming back our donors, our customers and our staff. What a joy it was to see our familiar customers again, and to witness just how important the ReStore is to our community. We were back to normal within days, selling everything from doors and paint to flooring and windows – you stood by us during a trying time and we’re thankful for everyone who chose to support our small business when we needed you the most.
14) We celebrated as our Vice President of our Board of Directors was named one of Rockford’s 25 Most Interesting People by Northwest Quarterly. Glasa has been a vital member of our Board for several years and was integral in starting and leading our DEI efforts, as well as our social media efforts at the ReStore. What a gem we’ve found in Glasa – we’re glad she chose us to spend her free time with!
15) During our build season we partnered with a variety of vendors and sub-contractors who helped us accomplish what we thought earlier in the year might be impossible. We got help from the Local 23 Plumbers Union, Ken-Z Roofing, Premier Concrete, Mechanical Inc., Baney Construction and Restoration, Crimson Valley Landscaping, Home Depot Foundation, and many more that made this year’s builds possible.
16) We welcomed new staff members to our team who have proven to be invaluable assets to our organization – Matt Hargrove as our new Development Specialist, Greta Sanders as our Volunteer Coordinator, Lauren Morelli as our new Communications Coordinator, and Abby Grimmett as our new Assistant Store Manager for the ReStore.
17) We celebrated with Sharon Montana, our Assistant Store Manager at the ReStore, as she retired from her career with RAHFH. We’re grateful for the years Sharon spent with us, but we sure do miss her smile and laugh!
18) We were blessed with the generosity of so many donors who stepped up to the plate when we needed them the most. We received check after check after check from businesses and corporations, individuals, foundations, churches and organizations that believed in our mission enough to support our efforts with financial assistance. We secured our largest donation to date of $250,000, which will help us launch new initiatives in 2021 and ensure that we can serve the families we promised to serve.
19) In September, we celebrated Ted Brolund as he was named a 2020 recipient of the Governor’s Volunteer Service Award from the Serve Illinois Commission. Ted began his volunteer career with RAHFH over 20 years ago, working alongside 23 families to build safety, stability and self-reliance for our homeowners. Ted’s commitment to our organization is admirable and we’re proud the Governor agreed!
20) We came back to the closing table for Candi and her family a few months later than anticipated. Candi’s home, built primarily by Guilford students, was most affected by the pandemic, but that didn’t stop her drive and desire to realize her dream of owning her own home. She worked hard to finish her house and now Candi and her family get to spend their forever there!
21) In November, we hosted our first ever virtual Volunteer Appreciation event, where we got to recognize our volunteers who went above and beyond in 2020. We were thrilled to get to name Peter Schmeling our Volunteer of the Year, Homeowner Tricia Jones our Impact Award Winner, Glasa Gottschalk our 2020 Luke Carmichael Dedicated Service Award winner, Northwest Bank of Rockford our Live Generously winner, and Mike Adams our Lifetime Achievement award winner. To be surrounded by people like Peter, Glasa, Tricia, Mike and our friends at Northwest Bank is our absolute honor and we’re humbled at their dedication to our mission!
22) We celebrated Veterans Day by partnering with Home Depot Rockford and Home Depot Foundation to complete 2 critical home repairs for deserving Veteran families in Rockford. What a blessing to get to help those who have sacrificed so much for our country and our freedom.
23) For the 4th time in 2020, we gathered around the closing table, this time for Josell and her family! Josell worked all year to build alongside the volunteers, and her love of them is so evident in all that she says and does. Josell is a testament to the power of building relationships – because everyone who has worked with her loves her!
24) Just in time for Christmas, we closed on our 5th home for Sharonda and her family. Sharonda was on a condensed timeline to rehab her home, and boy did she step up the plate! Putting in countless hours and energy, Sharonda was able to start her process in October, and by December 15th she was signing her name on her forever home!
25) Although we didn’t start 2020 with the same perspective that we now have as we end the year, we most certainly learned a lot. We learned that in times of need, God answers your prayers, and when things feel like they’re falling apart, they’re really falling into place. 2021 looks bright for our affiliate and my prayer is that with your help, we’ll be able to help more families than we ever have before.
I know I started with saying I was going to highlight our 20 successes in 2020, but when I think about all of the love that has been shown to us this past year, 20 just didn’t seem like enough. Here’s to an even better 2021!