Looking back on 2021

Charae’s home dedication
Tracey and her son at their home dedication

2021 was certainly a year to remember. When we sat down with RAHFH Executive Director Keri Asevedo to discuss what this year was like for our organization, a few words came to her mind: powerful, tenacious, and determined.

There are plenty of 2021 memories that stand out, like cheering with Charae (a 2021 homebuyer) as she received the keys to her new home, watching Tracey and her son explore their new home, celebrating DeVonna’s home dedication (pictured above), seeing Candi (another Habitat homeowner) walk next door to help with the siding on Tammy’s house (the Guilford build for this year). Some other big moments were celebrating when the ReStore hit their sales goal for the entire year in October, and the wedding of our office manager, Laura.

Ultimately there are far too many highlights to share from this year, but here are just a few of the things that made 2021 so unique and special.

“On the development side of things, we had our best year ever,” Keri said. “I would say the most significant thing that happened in 2021 was receiving the Larson Family Foundation gift through Habitat International– A $660,000 contribution by the Larson Family Foundation to build two houses a year for the next three years.”

RHDC check presentation

In addition to this incredible gift, RAHFH also received significant support from the Rockford Housing Development Corporation and the City of Rockford. We also received support in the form of in-kind donations (materials and professional construction services) from many local businesses and organizations, including The Morse Group, Local 23 Plumbers & Pipefitters, Apex General Contracting, Cross Country Construction, Crimson Valley Landscaping, Ken-Z Roofing, Dwight Swanson Construction Inc., and Bucciferro Family McDonald’s.

The ReStore also had a remarkable year. Besides hitting the annual sales goal in October (which is truly incredible), other highlights include increasing the number of donors and customers. Additionally, many local businesses have become ongoing ReStore supporters through large donations, such as the Lowe’s Distribution Center and Collins Aerospace. Finally, the continuation of our impressive recycling program at the ReStore is always a highlight– thousands of pounds of metal and other materials are kept out of landfills each year thanks to the ReStore.

This year also marked the return to full production for the construction of Habitat homes.

“We worked with homeowners who were struggling throughout this pandemic, and came up with unique ways of ensuring their success,” Keri said.

Habitat built six new homes this year with the help of hundreds of dedicated volunteers, as well as dozens of groups from the community. One of the homes this year, the Community Build, was built entirely by groups from local businesses and organizations. A full list of these community volunteer groups can be found at the bottom of this post.

East High School was added to our partnership with Rockford Public Schools. This partnership will continue to expand in 2022 as Jefferson High School builds their first Habitat house. Additionally, Hononegah High School will be building walls for a Habitat home, and Harlem High School will be starting to incorporate construction into their curriculum with the hope of building a Habitat home in the future.

This ramp was one of the critical home repairs completed this year

In addition to all of these construction efforts, two rehabs were completed, and we launched our critical home repair program through a grant from the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois. We hope to expand our home repair program in the future.

“We saw that need [for critical home repairs], we solicited the funds, and we’ll be able to make a monumental impact with critical home repairs,” Keri said.

As she thought over the year, it was evident that Keri was absolutely in awe of the community’s support.

“For lots of people, and lots of organizations, 2021 was tough. They were still trying to recover personally, professionally, and organizationally from a year that held so much uncertainty. For us, we came out of that year stronger than we’ve ever been, more productive than we’ve ever been,” Keri said. “The community showed up, our steady volunteers came regularly. It’s like we never skipped a beat, like everybody knew how important this program was to our community, and to the families we serve. And although we had to wait a year to make some dreams come true, each of those homeowners moved into their house at the exact right time for them… We feel so blessed to be able to get to do this work on their behalf every day, and that is due in large part to the people who choose to believe in us. The people who choose to support us with their time, with their money, with their efforts, and with their professional services. We couldn’t do this without an entire community behind us. And our success is theirs.”

Thank you to the following Community Build groups: Rock Valley Credit Union, Northeast Christian Church, Crosspoint Church, Rock Valley College HCCTP, Kenco Group, Berkshire Hathaway Crosby Starck Real Estate, RPS205 Early Childhood Department, Life Church, Larson & Darby, Associated Bank, Byron Bank, Rockford Mass Transit District, Winnebago County CASA, Williams Charles, The Office of State Representative Dave Vella, Park City Church, NEXT Rockford, AFP Rockford, In Memory of Daniel Nielsen Build Day

In honor of Daniel Nielsen

These photos were taken during a build day in honor of Daniel Nielsen. We were honored that Daniel’s friends and members of his family chose to volunteer on our build sites for a day to celebrate his life and legacy. It is clear that Daniel lived an extraordinary life, and that he was someone who focused on building up those around him. Daniel was a dedicated supporter and leader with Habitat for Humanity in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and that affiliate is raising funds to build a Habitat home in his honor. Make a donation by clicking the button below.

The Problematic History of Housing Policy: Part two of our housing & the environment series

By Caitlyn Baylor, RAHFH Homeowner Services & Grants Director

In part one of our series on housing and the environment, we looked ahead at disparities that are just beginning to unfold in access to energy efficient housing. In part two, we look backward to gain insight on how past housing policy has impacted who is suffering the most under the climate crisis today.

In a recent episode of the podcast On Being, atmospheric scientist Katherine Hayhoe insightfully said that climate change is not merely impacting the environment – it is amplifying the most serious humanitarian crises we have on our planet. We are not only talking about a future where the ice caps melt to the detriment of polar bear habitat; we’re talking about a future where cities like Rockford will have three “100 year” heat waves each summer.

And if you think about it, who will this impact the most?

Residents in different neighborhoods within the same city do not experience summer heat evenly. Low-income neighborhoods are hotter than wealthier neighborhoods. And when you look at where these hotter neighborhoods are, they are neighborhoods that were historically redlined.

The racist policies of the mid-20th century that reinforced residential segregation and diverted investment away from Black neighborhoods continue to contribute to enormous disparities in many forms today. One of these disparities is in the “urban heat environment.” Historically redlined neighborhoods across the country are now 5 to 12 degrees hotter in summer than wealthier and whiter parts of the same cities.

Why? Because redlining contributed to development in these neighborhoods that meant fewer trees, fewer parks, tighter buildings, more concrete, and closer proximity to highways and industrial complexes. These environments absorb and radiate heat, and this has led to higher summer temperatures in these neighborhoods. The trees and vegetation more common in wealthier neighborhoods, in contrast, has led to cooler temperatures.  

Heat is the deadliest weather disaster in the United States, and with global warming intensifying, cities will have to confront that one of the many legacies of racist housing policy is that people of color remain more vulnerable to dangerous heat where they live.

We are starting to see that climate change is compounding existing inequalities in a multitude of ways. People who already suffered from higher rates of asthma, diabetes, and high blood pressure— all conditions that are exacerbated by heat— are now living in hotter neighborhoods while lacking air conditioning. People who already had to walk long distances for food due to a lack of nearby stores and transportation are now doing so in higher temperatures. These are just two of many examples to illustrate the relationship that is forming between the climate crisis and the housing crisis.

Connecting these dots, Patrick Canagasingham, chief operating officer of Habitat for Humanity International, recently urged delegates at the UN climate change conference to remember that “the housing and climate crises are interconnected. They cannot be solved in isolation but rather through holistic efforts that prioritize the needs of families most vulnerable to climate change.”

The intersection of these crises is a crossroad in our work. We can no longer hope to create a world where everyone has a decent place to live without also addressing the changing climate in which all housing is situated.

The facts and statistics in this post are drawn from The New York Times’ 2020 article “How Decades of Racist housing policy left Neighborhoods Sweltering” by Brad Plumer and Nadja Popovich.

Thank you to our volunteers

By Greta Sanders, RAHFH Volunteer Manager

When asked this year why someone should volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, I nearly responded without a second thought with my usual one-liners. You know the ones, “giving back to your community is important” , “It’s a fun day you can spend with family, friends or co-workers all while doing something good for Rockford”, I could go on and on. I have probably said one of those things to a handful of you reading this. While giving back to your community is important, and we have lots of fun on site, those things are true of any volunteer experience. I was asked why someone should volunteer with Habitat for Humanity specifically. So, I stood there for what was probably an uncomfortable amount of time thinking what makes us different? Why should someone volunteer with us? What was spilled out of my mouth was, “home is personal. It’s your safe space. There is nothing more personal than home”.  

Six families, right here in Rockford, will move into a house built just for them, and they will quickly begin turning that house into their home. Each of these families will begin creating new memories. Hosting a Thanksgiving dinner for the first time or waking up on Christmas morning in a bedroom that is just for them. Memories and smiles that will last a lifetime. That is what home is. A home is personal. A home is your safe space. A home provides stability, a solid foundation to grow on and bloom into something beautiful. 

 Thank you for working tirelessly at the ReStore which generates funds for us to build the most homes we have every built in one year. Thank you for coming out no matter the weather, to use your skills to build from the ground up, the place these families will call home. Thank you to those who gather around a table to discuss how we can continue to grow and reach more families year after year. Thank you for playing your role in providing families with the most personal thing of all, a safe and stable home where they will grow and bloom for many years to come. 

The impact of home repairs

One of Rockford Area Habitat for Humanity’s primary roles in the Rockford community is increasing access to homeownership through the construction of safe, affordable housing. However, one of the greatest housing-related needs in Rockford is the need for home repairs in existing homes. This summer, we were able to respond to this need by completing a variety of critical home repairs in Rockford, an effort that was funded by the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois.

Completed ramp at Frances’ home

One of the repairs was the installation of a ramp for a homeowner named Frances. She said that she was impressed with the quality of the repair, and that she really enjoyed working with Gary, our construction assistant (Gary was the primary overseer of all of the home repairs). Frances shared that the ramp finally makes her home fully accessible to her, which has changed her daily life in a powerful way.

“[The ramp] makes a world of difference,” Frances said. “I’m able to get out of the house now.”

New exterior door at Patricia’s home

Patricia, another homeowner we partnered with, described the impact of the repairs around her house in a similar way. Some of the repairs in her home included adding railing to the steps on her deck, replacing some of the exterior doors, repairing her kitchen counters (shown in the photo at the top of this post), adding drywall in the basement, and replacing some of the flooring in the kitchen.

“[Habitat] gave me a lot of help,” Patricia said. “I feel so different. The whole house is a really old house, but now when I see my counter in the kitchen, it makes me feel good…It’s so nice, and it looks beautiful.”

Railing on Patricia’s deck

Patricia exuded pride in her home as she talked over all of the other repairs that had been completed. She said that having the opportunity to take these steps to improve her home is something she is deeply grateful for, and she hopes that other homeowners in Rockford can have that opportunity.

“[The repairs] changed my life. Every time I see everything that Gary did, I feel so happy—so happy,” Patricia said. “I don’t have the words to say the right things, because it’s something really, really special that I feel right now. I see my house, and it’s completely different. Thank you guys. Thank you very much.”

At the core of Habitat’s mission is the belief that everyone deserves a safe, stable, quality place to call home, and we know that critical home repairs are key to making that vision a reality. We are truly thankful for the opportunity to partner with homeowners like Frances and Patricia, and our hope is to continue to further the work of home preservation in years to come.

We would like to extend our deepest gratitude to The Community Foundation of Northern Illinois for making this effort possible.

closeup photo of sprout

The Energy Burden Gap: Part One of Our Housing & the Environment Series

By Caitlyn Baylor

Have you read the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report? It’s a very sobering assessment of the unprecedented and irreversible climate changes underway throughout our world.

You will often hear us say that Habitat for Humanity works to create a world where everyone has a decent place to live. A big part of this, naturally, is creating shelter itself. But in the face of the climate crisis and increasingly intense meteorological patterns, this vision needs to account for the reality that, without intentional intervention and strategy, climate change is only going to compound the existing inequities in housing. 

Here in the United States, a key piece of climate-related housing inequity is access– or lack thereof– to energy efficient housing.  

An “energy burden gap” is widening, in which lower income households are starting to pay disproportionately higher costs for utilities relative to their income, while higher income households are finding ways to disproportionately lower their cost for utilities through costly additions like solar panels, geothermal heating, and tankless water heaters. Another way to look at this gap is that the amount you must pay for your utilities per square foot of housing can be radically different depending on your circumstances. 

Rental units that are older and outdated tend to be more affordable in their base-cost for families with lower incomes. But lower cost housing is significantly less efficient than newer and higher cost housing stock, so the potential savings on rent is offset by the higher utility costs. With temperature extremes on the rise, some low-income families are paying as much every month toward utilities as they already pay in rent or would pay toward a mortgage. This is particularly troubling because according to Energy Efficiency for All, high utility bills are the “primary reason that people resort to payday loans, which play an outsized role in the perpetuation of poverty” (Energy Efficiency for All). The need for efficient housing options tailored to low-income households is clear. 

To begin to bridge the disconnect between energy efficiency and low-income communities, one step Rockford Area Habitat for Humanity took in 2018 was to start partnering with ComEd to construct our homes to the highest standards of energy efficiency. We wanted to ensure that as home buyers moved from outdated rental units into their new homes, they would leave the energy burden behind. For this partnership, we must meet 13 criteria as we build, from using energy efficient appliances, mechanicals, and lighting throughout to installing lower flow toilets and faucets to insulating with things like air-tight windows.

We are also working to connect our homeowners to community solar farms so that even without making a high-cost upfront investment in solar panels, they can enjoy some of the cost-savings associated with using solar energy. 

One of our recent homebuyers, who had been renting an older house before closing on her loan, shared: “My monthly bill is half of what I paid in the past. I have never seen a monthly bill this cheap in years! My [utility] bill in my new home is a blessing.”

The energy burden gap is one of the many emerging inequities that makes addressing the human impact of the climate crisis so complex and important. As housing providers, we have a duty to remain mindful of the new housing disparities springing up in our changing world, and to play a part in closing the energy burden gap by making energy efficiency more equitably accessible for all. 

Staff Spotlight: Amy

Meet Amy, one of our ReStore cashiers! When you shop at the ReStore, there’s a good chance that Amy will be running the register, stocking shelves, or providing awesome customer service by answering any questions you have.

Amy has worked at the ReStore for around seven months, but before joining the team, she was a ReStore customer for a couple of years. She loved coming to the ReStore to look for great deals.

Her favorite section of the ReStore when she was a customer is still her favorite section as a cashier: housewares. Amy loves to find all of the quirky, thrifty, unique items that are donated to the store.

She also enjoys interacting with coworkers and customers, and says that it’s fun to get to know the regular ReStore shoppers. She appreciates the impact the ReStore has on these customers, as well as the entire community.

“I like that [the ReStore] is helping people,” Amy said. “And when people come in to shop, they’re able to get something for a really cheap price that they couldn’t get anywhere else. I like that it’s beneficial to people outside the store, but also that it’s beneficial to people who come in.”

On top of working at the ReStore, Amy is a graduate student studying Biology. She enjoys all things computers, loves animals, and likes to get outside when the weather is nice.

We are so appreciative of all that Amy brings to the ReStore! Thank you, Amy, for being a part of our team!

Staff Spotlight: Shondra

Q: How would you describe your role at RAHFH?

A: My role at RAHFH is Development Director. My role at RAHRH is to oversee all aspects of the fundraising program. That includes building relationships, soliciting and executing fundraising events.

Q: What is your history with Habitat? How long have you worked with RAHFH? 

A: I am new to the RAHFH family. I have worked with the organization for three months. 

Q: What do you love about Habitat? 

A: There are 2 things that really stand out to me about RAHFH. I love that we give Rockford Area families the opportunity to purchase their own homes. I also love our staff. 

Q: What is one of your favorite moments/ memories of working with Habitat?

 A: My favorite moment was writing a “hidden” dedication to one of our families after helping to frame the walls to their new home. Volunteers can use markers to write blessings to the future home owners. 

Q: What makes you passionate about your work?

A: Building partnerships with people drives me in my work. We partner with our families to build their home and to create a relationship that is mutually beneficial for both of us. These partnerships can last a lifetime. The same thing happens when we build relationships and partner with businesses and organizations. I get so excited when I am able to connect people that didn’t even know that they could help one another.  

Q: What is one fun or surprising fact about you?  

A: In the same day, I taught one of my kids how to ride a bike, taught another one of my kids how to drive, and legally got a beer with another one of my kids.

Q: When you’re not serving with HFH, what are you up to? What do you do for fun?

A: When I am not at work I am driving my children to MANY sporting events. I enjoy traveling, spending time with friends and family.

Impact Story: Betty

Like so many of our homeowners’ stories, this story starts with the dream of owning a home. Unlike most of our stories, that is also how it ends.

Betty says owning her own home was something she always dreamed of, but in 2008, she was renting what she calls “a cramped little apartment” with her five-year-old daughter and eight-year-old son. As fate would have it, she was also working at a local television station, where Rockford Area Habitat for Humanity’s Executive Director arranged a television spot to advertise the upcoming application opportunity for Habitat’s homeownership program.

Betty decided to apply for the program she learned about at work that day. She remembers being told that she would get a call if she was accepted into the program, and she remembers how anxiously she awaited a phone call telling her yes. “When we got that call,” Betty recalls, “my children and I just celebrated and rejoiced right in our little living room.”

Betty completed the partnership requirements of the program – going through homebuyer education classes and helping to build her house— and her little family of three moved into their new home on Montrose Avenue the next fall (the photo above was taken while the home was being built). 

The first thing she started doing was landscaping and working to make the yard feel like home. She planted what she thought was a little bush in the front yard. And as that bush started to grow, life for her family started to change.

Her little kids started playing outside in their spacious yard. Her older kids and grandkids got to come over more than they could at the small apartment. She started hosting and decorating for the holidays. Her little ones got to have birthdays at the house, and parties. They had shared a room for five years, and the house gave them their own space to start to grow up in. 

“Looking back with hindsight at the last twelve years, I can see that our house just made us closer as a family,” Betty reflects. “It made us more relaxed because we did not need to worry about where we lived. It allowed each of us in the house to focus on our dreams. It gave us wings.”

Betty also became close with her neighbors over the years. As she got to know them, she got to know their stories too. One of her neighbors, now in her mid-90s, had lived there since the street was a dirt road. Another neighbor, Betty learned, was the one who sold Habitat the lot that Betty’s house was built on.  Betty recalls this fact with a sense of significance – it is not lost on her that this woman’s decision all those years ago helped make her own dream come true.  

In August of this year, it became Betty’s turn to make a dream possible.  She retired from her job at the television station with plans to move out of town. In a powerful decision that brought her life full circle, she decided to sell her house back to Habitat so that we could sell it to another family.  

“Sitting at the title company table twelve years ago as the buyer was the most exciting thing I have ever done in my life. Knowing that I could actually buy my own, brand-new house was the greatest feeling in the world,” Betty says. “But then selling the house back twelve years later— knowing I was giving someone the same opportunity I had – that absolutely filled my heart. I know so well the way that dream feels, so to know I am making that dream come true for someone else is indescribable.”

Today, that “little bush” that Betty planted in her front yard has become a beautiful, 40-foot Italian cypress tree. It casts a long morning shadow across the front lawn and makes the house look charming and refined. We passed under that tree earlier this month as we walked up to the house on Montrose Avenue to show it to another woman for the first time. She currently rents a small apartment, and we were there so that she could see if it might be the right house for her and her family. She has always dreamed of owning a home…

Staff Spotlight: Sehade

Sehade is one of the newest members of the Habitat team, and we are already blown away by her amazing work as our ReStore Director! We hope you enjoy getting to know a little bit about her through this Q&A.

Q: How would you describe your role at Habitat/the ReStore?

A: I would say my role has many layers to it. Ensuring our store is community responsible, our team is valued and drives our core mission, and that we build a culture that fosters great relationships between our volunteers, customers, and store team.

Q: What is your history with Habitat? How long have you worked with Habitat?

A: I have been with Habitat for an exciting 4 weeks! It has been an amazing experience thus far. Growing up you hear all the great tales of what Habitat for Humanity does for their communities, so it’s a such a great feeling to be involved in that process.

Q: What do you love about Habitat?

A: What I love most is the stories! The stories of the single mom who works 2 jobs to provide for her family, and we are able to come alongside her and provide her with affordable home ownership. That to me is what it’s all about.

Q: What makes you passionate about your work?

A: I grew up as an immigrant, in a poor household. Home ownership was not something within reach for my parents, so to be able to see the impact we are making for families is heartwarming. 

Q: When you’re not at the ReStore/ Habitat, what are you up to? What do you do for fun?

A: When I’m not at RAHFH, you can catch me spending time with my husband and my 5- & 3-year-old, being the annoying parent to my 19-year-old who serves in the Air Force, or my 18-year-old who just got accepted to UW Madison (very proud mom here).

Q: What is one fun or surprising fact about you?

A: Fun fact….when I was 4 my brother and sister broke my arm by dropping the couch on it when I was trying to catch our parakeet they let loose.