Habitat Catawba Valley Celebrates 30th Year of Service

(Hickory, NC) Habitat for Humanity of Catawba Valley is celebrating its 30th year of service to the community in 2015 and is planning a year-long campaign to both celebrate its successes and look toward future projects.

Founded in 1985, Habitat for Humanity of Catawba Valley serves all of Catawba County. Habitat is an ecumenical, Christian-based organization dedicated to the premise that everyone should have a simple, decent, and affordable place to live. Since its founding, Habitat has served hundreds of families through new home construction, provision of support for families in need through referral, training and case management, special programs including weatherization, home repair, and community outreach through partnerships with local government and other non-profit agencies.

Self-help and community engagement are key components of the work done by Habitat. Through engaging families as “partners”, Habitat seeks to build not only homes with families, but hope for a better life. Thousands of volunteer hours are utilized each year to deliver the services provided. Churches, businesses, civic organizations, and individuals seeking to help their neighbors, assist in delivery of Habitat’s mission. From hammering on a construction site to working at the ReStore or serving on the board of directors or a committee, much of Habitat’s success can be attributed to the work of its volunteers.

“We are extraordinarily proud of what has been accomplished,” said Mitzi Gellman, Habitat Executive Director. “But we are also aware that there are still many people in our community that need a helping hand.”

In the next year, Habitat will spotlight its mission, the people served, the many ways to get involved with Habitat, and expand its program to serve more families. One of the first goals for the affiliate includes construction of homes in the Northstone subdivision in Hickory.

Habitat purchased the subdivision more than 3 years ago and has recently finalized plans for the new community. “Northstone will include 18 homes and open green space areas for play,” said Gellman.

Construction on the first home begins in June with a 3-bedroom home that will be constructed by Church of the Ascension and Holy Trinity and in memory of one of Habitat Catawba Valley’s founders, Ed Rogers. In July a second home will begin with funds and volunteers from Thrivent Financial and 13 area churches.

Northstone will also be the first Habitat neighborhood that will include homes sold on the open market to traditional homebuyers. These “market rate” homes will be 3 bedroom, 2 bath with approximately 1,500 sq./ft. Homes will be available for sale before the end of the year.

“Income restrictions for Habitat homeowners are very strict. Often only 1 or 2% of income separates a family from becoming a homeowner,” explained Gellman. “For the family earning over the Habitat income guidelines, there are very few homes for sale in their price range, and none that are built as energy efficient as Habitat homes. These homes in Northstone will provide safe, simple and decent housing for more people,” added Gellman.

Additionally Habitat expanding its services to include a repair ministry designed to keep homeowners in their own homes. Initially repairs may be limited to exterior renovations: leaky roofs, broken stairs, handicap ramp construction and broken windows. The need for repairs is great.

“The need for a repair ministry is unbelievable,” said Gellman. “There are hundreds of homes in Hickory and many more in Catawba County. What starts as a little deterioration and a $200 repair can quickly turn into a $2,000 demolition, with a family searching for affordable housing.”

The repair ministry will be in addition to Habitat’s new home construction program. “It will be like starting a new business within Habitat,” said Gellman. To be fully operational the nonprofit organization will need start-up funds for the purchase of construction equipment, a truck and trailer and possible staffing and volunteers skilled in repairs. Estimated start-up costs for the repairs program are $200,000.

“We are seeking gifts from individuals, business, charitable foundations and churches for this new ministry,” said Gellman. While new to this Habitat affiliate, other Habitat organizations have successfully launched a community-wide repairs program. “We wanted to create a repairs program years ago, but the downturn in the economy prevented us from fully funding this additional department,” said Gellman. “The financial climate is improving and this is a good time for the affiliate to expand.”

Partnering with Habitat is Thrivent Financial through its Thrivent repairs program. The program is part of an ongoing partnership between Thrivent Financial and Habitat for Humanity International, called Thrivent Builds with Habitat for Humanity. From the national partnership’s inception in 2005, Thrivent Financial and its members have now committed more than $213 million and more than 4.4 million volunteer hours. Under this program Thrivent Financial will provide $2,500 for each repair project with 10 repairs projected for this year.

Thrivent Financial contribution is part of their on-going support of affordable housing. Paul Henry, a financial representative with Thrivent Financial, said, “This program provides us with more options to serve our community. Upgrading existing homes not only makes the homes safer and more efficient, it also cultivates community pride.”

As the leadership of Habitat looks toward the future there is also the possible expansion into affordable rental units for families not yet ready for homeownership.

“As we began to explore gaps in services to the community through our strategic planning process, it became clear that a need was safe, decent and affordable rental units. While we still believe home ownership is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty, some families need time to rehabilitate their credit scores and reestablish their employment.” said Gellman.

While still in the early stages, Habitat’s plan would be to acquire and renovate single family homes and multi-unit apartment buildings and offer them for rent to families who are working toward homeownership. “While this is new territory for us, we know this is a service that people need. Every business evolves over time and Habitat is no different, “added Gellman.

The 30th anniversary celebration will also include new opportunities for the faith community to get reengaged with the Habitat mission. Instead of holding its traditional Faith Build Week, Habitat invites churches to intentionally join them in a year of prayer, discipleship, and action in support of affordable housing. The year will include special Faith Build construction events, advocacy opportunities, gatherings, and reflections throughout the year, and will culminate in September, the month which includes both the Habitat’s 30th birthday and the International Day of Prayer and Action.

“This will be a busy year for us,” said Gellman who has recently celebrated her 20th year as Executive Director of Habitat. “Our mission and services are profoundly important not only to our families, but to our community. It is time to once again create excitement about who we are and what we do.”