Homeowner Spotlight: Tammy

Four years ago, Tammy stood in the driveway at the home dedication for the very first house that Guilford High School students had completed as part of our then brand new partnership program. Her son was a senior in Guilford’s construction trades program at the time, and he had helped to build the home from the ground up as part of his senior year curriculum. Now, Tammy is getting ready to step back onto the construction site, only this time, the house being built by the Guilford students will be her own.

Tammy is a longtime employee of RPS 205 who currently serves as an Office Professional at Ellis Elementary School, and she says she is passionate about education. The evidence of this passion is clear all around her— her oldest daughter, who recently graduated from NIU, is a teacher at Lewis Lemon Elementary School; her oldest son thrived in the Guilford-Habitat partnership program, taking every opportunity to deepen his hands on experience in his field of interest; her 12-year old son is doing great in middle school; and her 5-year old daughter is soaking up everything she can in Kindergarten. As for Tammy, she graduated with her Associates Degree in 2019, and she is looking forward to continuing on for her Bachelors. 

Tammy is a lifelong member of the Rockford community. She and her sisters even had a “girl group” back in the day that would perform and sing around town.  Now, Tammy says she is looking forward to becoming a homeowner invested in her hometown in a brand new way.

“Owning a home is like a cornerstone of building financial freedom and mobility,” Tammy says. “It makes a lot of sense to invest in yourself rather than someone else’s house. To me, it is especially important because I want to have something that I can leave for my children, something that they can take pride in.”

Tammy’s house will be under construction during the 2021-2022 school year. When she moves in the early summer of 2022, she is looking forward to decorating her home the way she wants, to painting her walls, and to having a yard for her kids to play and hang out in. But beyond all of these aspects of owning a home, Tammy says the thing she is looking forward to the most is the simple “pride and freedom” of knowing that the house will always belong to her and her kids.  

Staff Spotlight: Gary

Gary Trueblood is Rockford Habitat’s Assistant Construction Manager, which means that he wears many hats within our organization. He helps with everything from construction management to repairs, and this year, he’ll even be the house leader for our Community Build!

Gary got connected to Habitat as a volunteer about five years ago. His first volunteer experience with Habitat was on a build for a Habitat partner family that went to his church. Here’s a quick fun fact: on the construction site, Gary worked alongside Jack, who is now our Construction Manager. Jack and Gary had actually met each other 10 or 15 years before that when their sons played high school soccer together. Gary also went to the same high school as Jack’s wife, Beth. It’s definitely a small world!

After volunteering on that build site, the rest is history, and now Gary and Jack work together every day.

“I worked all summer volunteering there, and then volunteered another year or so, and then the opportunity came up that I could retire and work part time for Habitat,” Gary said.

Gary loves working for Habitat because of the way that he gets to use his talent and gift for construction to support people in his community.

“What I love is just to be able to serve the community, and to able to see people become homeowners and get into a nice, safe, affordable housing situation,” he said.

He also shared that he enjoys repairing and rebuilding homes.

“That’s kind of a different construction skill than building new houses. You’ve got to really be creative and think on how to repair things and how to fix things,” Gary said.

As he completes repair projects, Gary also enjoys helping Habitat homeowners learn how to do some simple projects around their homes.

“I like to try to teach people how to fix things, and how to do things themselves, so they can be self-supporting later on,” he said. If homeowners learn how to make simple repairs around their homes, they won’t have to hire contractors for those projects in the future.

When Gary isn’t doing a home repair or helping out with Habitat-related work, he enjoys being active. He likes all kinds of outdoor activities, including surfing, biking, hiking and running. He has run 13 marathons and several triathlons over the course of his life! Gary also enjoys golfing, and hopes to hit his second hole in one someday—his first one was in 1978 in Florida.

Gary is incredibly dedicated and hardworking, and our work would not move forward in the same way without him. We are so thankful for the care and quality that he builds into Habitat homes and the way he serves the Rockford community!

green plant leaf with drops in nature

Habitat and the environment: How ComEd helps our homes go green.

As an affiliate, we hope to be as conscientious as possible when it comes to our environmental footprint. That’s why we are so thankful for our partnership with the ComEd Energy Efficiency Program.

This program is an incentive program for the new construction of affordable housing. To break it down, ComEd covers whatever it costs to upgrade materials in the home to meet the energy-efficient requirements. This is a win for the environment as it creates incentive to build eco-friendly homes, and also is a win for communities because it helps open doors to more affordable homes.

Organizations and companies that join the program must meet 13 energy-efficient criteria as they build homes, and in return ComEd helps to cover the cost of materials for the houses. These criteria cover everything from energy efficient lights, appliances, and water heaters to airtight insulation and windows.

Rockford Area Habitat for Humanity applied for and was accepted to the ComEd Energy Efficiency Program in 2019. Since then, we have built five homes that have met the energy efficiency requirements, and we’re prepared to build six more.

Part of the reason we love being a part of this program is the way these environmentally friendly upgrades benefit our homeowners. Because we’re able to build homes that are more airtight, insulated, and energy efficient, Habitat families will save on their electricity, gas, and water bills over time.

Josell, a homeowner who purchased her Habitat home in 2019, is already seeing the impact of this.

“My monthly bill is half of what I have paid in the past. I have never seen a monthly bill this cheap in years!” Josell said in January when she received her first energy bills. “My bill for the month in my new home is a blessing.”

We are truly honored to be a part of ComEd’s Energy Efficiency Program, and believe that this partnership will have a sustainable impact our families, our environment, and our community for years to come.

We hope to be as conscientious as possible when it comes to our environmental footprint. That’s why we are so thankful for our partnership with the ComEd Energy Efficiency Program.

Rockford Habitat for Humanity Builds Futures

By Christina Magee, College & Career Academy Coach at Guilford High School

Angela Diep, Guilford High School alumni

Habitat for Humanity is known for building houses which clients turn into homes that nurture the futures of its residents.  But in Rockford, Illinois, Habitat for Humanity is building not just its clients’ futures, but also the futures of high school students.

In partnership with the Rockford Public Schools, Production Academy students from Guilford and East High Schools take their education off campus to a Habitat build site.  Once on site, these high school students start with a cement slab and begin building the groundwork for their future careers.  All school year, students frame, drywall and tile, install electrical, plumbing and flooring until the house is finished. 

“The best part of the experience is getting to see the house we built become a home for a family we worked side by side with” expresses Angela Diep, Guilford High School alumni. 

Just like a house must start with a foundation, Angela’s construction education began back at Guilford High School in the foundation class, Introduction to Industrial Technology.  As a freshman, Angela discovered her love for woodworking and was excited to know that someday she could go off campus and build a house. 

“I thought that it was a great opportunity for me and would be cool to interact with teachers and students in a different way than we normally would in regular classes, and I was right!” she said.

Angela is currently enrolled at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign pursuing a degree in architecture.  While at Guilford High School, Angela had the opportunity to participate in the Habitat for Humanity off campus build project both her junior and senior years. 

“Building houses in high school allowed me to have a different perspective than other architecture students.  I’ve gotten to see how things work in the construction process and understand things that may seem complicated from a construction point of view such as wrong measurements, odd wall placements or no structural support. I’ve also seen how to utilize all areas in the house for maximum space usage,” she said. “Bringing up the fact that I’ve been able to build these houses has helped me build connections with my architecture professor and woodshop advisor, which could possibly open up many more opportunities for me in the future.” 

Beyond specific building skills, this experience has allowed Angela to grow as a leader.   

“During my time building the Habitat houses, I’ve also gotten some experience in being a leader. Mr. Anderson (Guilford’s Construction Teacher) allowed me to be in charge of the other students and trusted me to get work done. I know I can always ask for help and feedback from Mr. Anderson and the Habitat volunteers that I’ve gotten to know from the build,” she said.

Most importantly, having this experience has solidified Angela’s passion for giving back. 

“Volunteering has also become important to me, so I try to help the community whenever possible,” Angela said. “This year I’m a part of a volunteer organization that builds furniture for places that really need it. Our project right now is for a space that students go to when they need a safe place to do homework or stay after school. Our goal is to make it a comfortable and vibrant place with the hopes that the students get excited to go to it.”

Angela is just one of many Guilford High School students who have built their future career paths around the experiences they have gained on the Habitat for Humanity build site.  When asked about her most meaningful experience from her time in Guilford’s Construction Pathway Angela said, “Seeing families get the thing they have worked so hard for was the most rewarding feeling.” 

Habitat for Humanity is changing lives for so many in our community…. Guilford High School students included!

Staff Spotlight: Ericka

Meet Ericka, one of our ReStore cashiers! Ericka is incredibly kind, and is skilled when it comes to providing excellent customer service at the ReStore. Her role on the ReStore team includes cleaning and sanitizing high-touch traffic areas for the safety of ReStore customers and team members, as well as running the cashier and assisting customers.

Ericka has worked at the ReStore since November of 2020, and has a pretty fun story of how she ended up on staff at the ReStore.

“I found out about it because I shopped here,” she said. “I would shop here all the time. Before it was here (on Harrison Ave.), I was going to the one on North Main, because we were redoing our house… I tell everybody, you will come here and shop, and then you will want to work here.”

Though she has shopped the ReStore for all kinds of items, Ericka’s favorite section of the store is a no-brainer.

“Housewares,” she said with a laugh, describing her system of donating old items and finding new things at the ReStore.

“I have a butler’s pantry, and I feel that I have to fill it up… My husband does not like it, but I do,” she joked.

Beyond being a loyal ReStore shopper, there are many other reasons why Ericka loves working at the ReStore.

“I love the people, I love all the different stuff that we always get… but really, it’s the people. Some of the people come in every single day,” she said.

Ericka also feels very connected to the ReStore’s mission in helping to increase access to homeownership in Rockford through Habitat for Humanity.

“Oh, I love it, because I know three people that actually got their houses through Habitat for Humanity in Rockford,” Ericka said. “And I always tell people, if you want to get a house, go to Habitat for Humanity.”

When Ericka isn’t at the ReStore, she loves to play and watch soccer. She played for 30 years leading up to the pandemic, and can’t wait until there are opportunities to get out on the field again.

We are so thankful for Ericka and the role she plays on the ReStore team. Thank you, Ericka, for all that you do to make the ReStore excellent!

COVID creates challenges, but East High School is up for it.

By Bill Rose, Academy Coach and Career and Tech Ed Director at East High School

Earlier last year we were approached by Habitat for Humanity to take a more robust role in the community on helping build a home for an area family in need of housing.  East students in past years worked on the Swedish Historical Society home, completed small business renovations, built residential ramps for the handicap and a host of other projects at area homes.  When Habitat for Humanity asked us to serve our community by taking on a new house build, our teachers Matt Walling and Juliun Austin said, “When can we start?” 

Starting the project became difficult for them from day one.  Covid 19 restrictions held back numbers of kids who could participate, combined with scheduling changes that wreaked havoc on students getting into a flow of work for the project.  Our students are resilient though.  From adjusting to the new schedules to working under harsh conditions in the cold, we continued to push our students to see some of the struggles real construction teams face.  This isn’t easy work, but we are proud that we are taking real life skills and transferring them to this new generation of workers. 

Matt Walling, Construction teacher for East, shares some of the frustration.  “We couldn’t start building the walls until last Spring, thus we started behind schedule.”  It was a perfect storm for not being able to complete this project and walking away thinking we couldn’t finish.  Finishing is what we teach as East E-Rabs though.  While kids struggle to get through the adjustments related to Covid and scheduling, they still manage to show up each day on the site and push on through.  “It’s an adjustment nearly every day,” says Construction teacher Juliun Austin.  Austin believes that the lessons these kids are learning are life changing.  “When you see a young person framing a house, working on plans or doing something they have never done, and getting good at it.  That’s when we realize we are changing lives not just for the kids, but the people that are going to live in this home,” Austin mentioned. 

Due to the resiliency of our students, East will be taking on another home and hopes to continue to build for Habitat for Humanity so long as they need the help.  “Our commitment to Rockford as a whole comes from a deep sense of self-preservation for our neighbors, our neighborhoods and our school. There isn’t a better project to be a part of,” said Bill Rose, CTE program Director for the Academies at East. 

How Habitat is doing the job right

By Ron Clewer, Illinois Market President, Gorman & Company, LLC

How many of us have heard – if you’re going to do a job, do it right?

For several years, I have committed to moving nonprofit organizations from thinking about how many people they serve, to achieving impact or the quantifiable difference they’ve made in the lives of people they intend to help. The Rockford Area Habitat for Humanity chapter is one of our local organizations that gets and achieves impact alongside the homeowners they assist.

Stable, affordable housing is essential to strong, vibrant families and communities, and has been shown to improve educational access and outcomes, wealth and financial stability, and civic and social engagement – but that’s only part of the story.

Health and financial security are deeply interconnected. There is significant research that shows the adverse impact poor health has on financial security. There is also research that financial insecurity has a deep impact on physical and mental health. It’s a vicious cycle, but Habitat is proven to be effective at breaking that cycle and helping their homeowners build financial security and wealth.

Contradictory to long-stated American values of equal opportunity, hard work, and upward mobility, the impacts of wealth inequality are far reaching and evident in poor outcomes for all areas mentioned above. Because of the work of our Rockford chapter, which brings its international organization’s values home to roost in our neighborhoods and the homes and hearts of Rockford Habitat homeowners, I have seen lives, families, and neighborhoods transformed.

As former CEO of the Rockford Housing Authority, I was lucky enough to see several of our residents–residents hoping for and willing to work for more– obtain not just a house through Habitat, but a new home and lifestyle; a lifestyle that changed their families’ educational, financial, and health trajectories.

Keri and her team at Rockford Area Habitat for Humanity are not just doing it right, but deliver outcomes with a level of empathy that is making durable change in Rockford. If you haven’t yet served as a volunteer or been a donor to Habitat, I encourage you to consider both now, as “build season” is just around the corner and it’s always a heartwarming experience to do the job right.

The Faith Build: Put your faith into action in your community

Jill (left) with a Habitat homeowner

One of Jill Kruckenberg’s first experiences with Habitat for Humanity was a Framing Day in Rockford a few years ago. Little did she know that this day would impact her for a very long time.

Jill found herself working alongside an excited, nervous, empowered Habitat homebuyer, who was on her way to becoming a homeowner.

After some of the walls had been raised into their places, the homebuyer was perched on a ladder, nailing in a piece that would hold two walls together. Jill remembers watching the young woman looking out over the maze of walls.

“She turned around, and kind of was surveying the whole entire thing. And she looked down at me, and she goes, ‘this is mine,’” Jill said. “And I have been one hundred percent, literally hooked ever since.”

Jill has now been the Thrivent liaison for all of the Chicagoland Habitat affiliate Faith Builds for several years, and has been present for every Faith Build in Rockford. The concept of the Faith Build is a partnership that makes a big impact by building a home for a local family to purchase.

“It’s a three-part formal relationship, in that it’s the faith community, Habitat and Thrivent coming together, but then it’s also the community itself, a partner family, and all of us really coming together to have that opportunity, because we are missionally aligned,” Jill said.

The Faith Build truly brings community members together in a unique way, and helps churches put their faith into action in their own backyards. Thrivent and local churches support the construction of the home financially, and then volunteers from Habitat, Thrivent, and the community unite to build the home together. Churches and other volunteers also prepare lunches for the construction crews, join together in praying for the homebuyer and their family, and more—there are many ways to participate in the Faith Build, and every role is crucial.

“It seems to be the perfect blend that’s getting things done. Not just building a safe, affordable home for a family, but also creating community where maybe it was lacking before,” Jill said. “Friendships have been built out of this, understanding for differences has been built out of this, and the fact of the matter is that it gave us an opportunity to join hands, and to join one another as a total Christian faith community.”  

After a year of isolation and hardship for many, Jill said there’s no better time for churches to participate in the Faith Build in whatever capacity they can.

“Churches are always looking for places within their ministries to be the hands and feet of Jesus, they want to have ministries and missions that make sense for their congregations to be able to tap into, and what’s really beautiful is when it happens within your own community,” Jill said. “To be a part of a movement, to be a part of something that is changing the very environment of your community for the better, is something that I think church congregations want to get behind.”

What Jill witnessed during that Framing Day years ago is exactly what the Faith Build invites churches to be a part of: being a small part of a Habitat homebuyer’s story in a life-changing, community-transforming way.  

“To give someone an opportunity and a chance, who may not have felt that in any other way in their life, is really something,” Jill said.

Interested in learning more about the 2021 Faith Build?

Join us for our virtual Faith Build Kickoff on March 23 at 1pm! This is the perfect environment to learn all about the Faith Build, hear from church leaders who have participated before, and ask any questions you have. Please Contact Us to RSVP, and we will send you the Zoom link.

You can also visit our Faith Build webpage here.

Staff Spotlight: Jack

Jack Turner has worked as RAHFH’s Construction Manager for six years. He coordinates all of our builds and repairs, which is no small task! Jack works with our floor plans, coordinates with any contractors that we hire to help with the construction of our homes, ensures that our builds are supplied with the proper materials, and works with the construction classes from the high schools that partner with us.

Jack got connected to Habitat after volunteering a few times here in Rockford, applied for the Construction Manager position when it opened up, and the rest is history.

Though Jack is involved in every stage of the construction process, his favorite part of his job is seeing the way that safe and affordable housing through Habitat impacts families in Rockford.

“I love the fulfillment of seeing the families getting their dream of having homeownership,” Jack said. “Just to see the families, and the dedications, is just a beautiful thing. That’s what I love.”

Besides building homes, Jack is also constantly building relationships. He enjoys getting to know Habitat homebuyers and their families—he even said that during the summertime when he drives into one of our subdivisions, a lot of the kids recognize his truck and come running up to say hello. Jack also loves working alongside the students from high school construction classes, and watching them learn how to build a home from the ground up. And in the larger Rockford community, Jack is very connected to a lot of local contractors and builders.

“Some of our trades have been working with us for years, and they even have a passion for it,” Jack said.  “They know the Habitat story, and they give back.”

When he’s not working with Habitat, Jack has a few other passions and hobbies. Before starting with Habitat, he volunteered for about 10 years with Kids Around the World to build more than 10 playgrounds for children in about 12 different countries. He hopes to continue volunteering with this organization in the future. In the past few years, Jack has taken up sailing as a hobby, and loves sailing his boat on Lake Geneva during the summer.

Jack truly brings so much to RAHFH, and we are so thankful for the way that he makes our builds possible. Thank you, Jack, for all you do!

Impact Story: Bea and Annette

Annette, left, and Bea, right

They say that sisters make the best friends in the world, and there could not be a clearer demonstration of this saying than the sisterhood of Bea and Annette Walker. 

In 2001, Annette was a young woman living with her two kids in scattered-site housing through Rockford Housing Authority. She had long dreamed of owning a home of her own, but until someone at her workplace told her about Habitat for Humanity, it just didn’t seem feasible.  When Annette got approved to buy her house on Gilbert Avenue, she still remembers that it was “unreal” in the best way.

As Annette worked to complete her partnership hours, she remembers that Bea—who is the baby of the family and seven years younger than Annette— was an enormous help to her, supporting her constantly and assisting her with the hours.  Bea remembers that she was happy to do it for her big sister, who was like a “second mama to her.” In 2002, Annette closed on her loan and became a proud homeowner.

Five years later, it was Annette’s chance to return the favor— her little sister was approved through Habitat for Humanity to buy a home of her own. Bea says that Annette was a huge influence on her decision to become a homeowner, and just as Bea had been there for Annette years earlier, Annette came out time and again to help Bea complete her partnership requirements. Bea says Annette was a real mentor to her, making the huge undertaking feel doable, and in 2007 she, too, became a thrilled homeowner.  

The sisters, who grew up in Rockford, have always been close, but this shared experience of supporting each other through something so significant and life-changing cemented their closeness.  And their mutual support didn’t end once their houses were complete— the sisters say they still call on each other constantly, and they continue to help each other not only as fellow homeowners but also as neighbors. Their homes are right around the corner from each other.

Annette and Bea with their close friend Tiltyla, who is also a Habitat homeowner. These photos are from the photo booth at Party in the Park.

Annette is the “handyman” of the pair, so Bea leans on her to fix little things around the house. Annette said she calls Bea to check on packages or keep an eye on the house. When Bea’s kids were little, their bus stop was right outside of Annette’s house, so their aunt could watch them safely head off to school. And in general, they say they look out for each other— as sisters, as neighbors— all of the time.

Both sisters say that without the opportunity to become homeowners, they would both likely still be living in substandard housing. Instead, they have decades of joy, love, and memories accumulated within the walls that they own. Bea’s favorite memory at Annette’s house is of their late mom happily dancing in the living room surrounded by her closest friends at a big family gathering.  Similarly, Annette says she has countless treasured memories in Bea’s house, who is a “glowing” host of all holidays and birthdays.

The famous James Oppenheim poem says that just as we need bread to nourish our bodies, we need roses to nourish our hearts. The joy shared by the sisters as they reminisce serves as a reminder that good housing gives us more than the essentials we always talk about— more than improved health, improved education outcomes, improved finances. It also gives us laughter and relaxation and space to create memories with the cherished people in our lives. If the homes purchased around the corner from each other by Annette and Bea have given them proverbial bread, the homes have also so clearly given them bountiful roses.