Tithe Donation Topped $500,000

[Blog Post by Rob Nissly, Housing Director]

One of the great things about working at Habitat for Humanity is that we are daily changing lives in our community.  In addition, we are part of the larger international Habitat organization and through this partnership we have had opportunities to make a difference elsewhere in the world.  Our work doesn’t stop at the boundaries of Washtenaw County and as a Habitat affiliate we send money (tithe) each year to fund building in other countries.  During the last decade we decided as an organization to fund the construction of international house for every home built/renovated here at home.  In 2015, eighteen international families will have a simple, decent, affordable place to live thanks to our support.  This month HHHV celebrated an important milestone; our total tithe donation since 1989 (our founding) has topped $500,000 supporting the construction of over 125 of homes overseas.

The focus of our support over the last five years has been in both Haiti and Guatemala, each with a tremendous need for safe housing.  We have supported the national Habitat organizations with more than $150,000 each.  In addition to our financial support, we have had the opportunity to have “boots on the ground” and work in these countries and see the power of our investment.

In Guatemala we have built a relationship with the Quetzaltenango (Xela or Shay-la for short) affiliate in the highlands about 3 hours northwest of Guatemala City. Together we have worked on six houses over the past three years.  Over 30 volunteers from Ann Arbor have traveled to Xela and spent more than a week in the Guatemalan sun – digging, carrying and mixing – working side by side with the partner families to build a simple concrete block five room dwelling.  As the week begins there is little to suggest that the vacant parcel can be transformed in a week’s time.  There is a huge pile of sand, an even larger stack of cement block and capable masons that come together with the volunteers’ hard work to create a home for our Guatemalan families.

Typically the families are living in simple dwellings with dirt floors, leaky roofs, and smoky interiors.  Their new Habitat home will be made of concrete block, have a cement floor, a metal roof and a “smokeless” stove.   The homes are modest in size – maybe 40 square meters with solid doors and metal framed windows.  Their simple, decent, affordable home will markedly improve the health and education of the children (as well as the adults).

There is something quite moving to have spent a week working together with a family to construct a lasting and life-changing home.  I can still see the faces of the family members at the dedications – so happy and appreciative – not having the words to express their feelings about the new possibilities available to them in their new home.

If you would like to find out how you can support our work overseas as well as here at home please email Carmen.  If you are interested in making a difference in Guatemala, we are planning a return trip to Xela in February 2016.  We would love to have you join our team.  – Rob


20% Off Trick or Treat at the ReStore


This Friday there will be 20% off everything in stores! Don’t forget to wear your costume if you stop by, you can be featured on our Facebook page. There will be great deals and prizes/candy for the kids! Don’t miss out on this Halloween celebration on Friday, October 30 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

West Willow Clean Up Day and Community Action Teams

[Blog Post by Shataura Clayborne, West Willow Community Development Director and Faith Relations Coordinator]

On October 10, the weather was perfectly beautiful for a neighborhood-wide clean up day in West Willow. Residents and community volunteers came out to help pick up trash, rake leaves and plant fall bulbs. The neighborhood’s Victory Garden was put to bed for the winter and lots of tasty veggies were harvested – all kinds of tomatoes, green beans, eggplant, green peppers, and various greens. We can look forward to tulips and daffodils blooming in the Spring and our community looks better due to our efforts.

Some of our elderly and home-bound neighbors were able to have their yards spruced up with leaves raked and bulbs planted. This project was sponsored by the Litter, Trash and Debris Community Action Team in West Willow, one of the resident-led groups working to address issues in the neighborhood.  As one of five action teams, residents are working to make their neighborhood better in meaningful ways to them, solving problems they believe will make West Willow a better place to live and raise a family. The other Community Action Teams are Neighbor Relations, Vandalism and Break-Ins, Drug Activity, and Youth Relations and Activities. Activities that each Action Team is doing are funded through the 2015 Lowe’s Grant that Habitat Huron Valley was awarded to invest in the West Willow neighborhood. Residents are putting these funds to work for the betterment of the entire neighborhood.


Lola’s Words of Advice, From One Homeowner to the Next

[Blog by Gabriele Kuschmann, Family Program Coordinator]

Lola’s dream of homeownership is here!  She’s all moved in, thanks to the generosity of Corrigan Moving Systems, who currently moves a portion of our Habitat families at no cost.  This is immensely helpful—buying a home can be an overwhelming time no matter who you are, and having the move covered is something those families are very grateful for.

Thinking back on her Habitat journey, Lola points out that she didn’t just apply and get accepted right away.  In fact, she heard about Habitat in the early 2000’s for the first time.  At that time we were building from the ground up.  Lola didn’t feel quite ready for homeownership yet.  She needed to make sure her credit and finances were in the right place, and she ended up applying for Habitat 3 times before she was accepted.  “I want people not to get discouraged,” she says.  “It wasn’t like I just applied and got accepted.  That may happen for some people, but don’t lose hope if you’re not accepted right away.”

In the mean time Lola went ahead and took the Homebuyer Education class through WHEP, which is a class that Habitat requires as well, but is also free to the public in Washtenaw county.  “I think everybody should take the classes,” Lola says.   Feeling more knowledgeable about her overall options regarding homeownership, Lola applied a third time, and was encouraged by a Habitat homeowner friend.

“The exciting part was when I received the letter in the mail—I was so excited!”  After she was accepted, Lola jumped right in with her sweat equity hours.  She signed up and went to the construction site even before she met her Support Partner, Gwynn Sterken.  Besides getting a jump start on sweat equity, Lola’s advice to other Habitat Partner Families is to turn things in quickly.  “They’ll guide you and let you know what you need to do.  You just have to do it.  This is a real chance to be a homeowner.  It’s important to know what amenities you’re looking for ahead of time, to decide if Habitat is right for your family.”

Lola’s sponsor for her house was the Good News Group.  She’d like to say to them: “Your dedication and support made my dreams come true, and I am so grateful.   You are rock stars!  When you guys show up, you show out.”



Raised Bed Gardens from Growing Hope for Habitat Homeowners

[Blog by Marci Cameron, Sponsor of the Raised Bed Gardens from Growing Hope]

Mmmm.  Italian salad with tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and basil.  Pesto over pasta. Sliced-up cucumbers for snacking.  Children and grandchildren picking cherry tomatoes and strawberries right out of the garden.

What’s common for many families is a new adventure for Habitat for Humanity families through Growing Hope.  Ten families in the Gault Village neighborhood are taking advantage of a joint effort initiated this year:  Habitat home owners and those participating in the Home Improvement Programs have received two raised garden beds, soil, and seeds and seedlings in order to grow their own fresh, healthy produce.  Growing Hope is an Ypsilanti-based non-profit organization with the mission to increase access to healthy food and thus to help people improve their lives and communities.

“It’s amazing how much you can plant in these squared gardens,” says Rick.  “Fresh vegetables taste so good – no comparison to what you get at the store.  I’m not a gardener, but I’ve always wanted a garden.”

Says Crystal, “I’ve never gardened before and I didn’t think I would.  But then, for that price, I thought why not try.  It helped me to get out of my comfort zone.  Now I can’t wait for collards to come – eat great and save money!  The boys were not that interested but they look out the window and see, wow, they’re growing!”

Other Benefits:

  • Dave believes that his young children are not such picky eaters since they’ve been eating good, fresh vegetables at an early age.
  • Canned tomatoes for good spaghetti sauce in the winter!
  • Carol said her doctor’s office staff were amazed after her check-up blood draw, it was so good.  They said whatever you’re doing, keep doing!
  • Pam finds that making her own tomato sauce (for goulash, lasagna, spaghetti) is easier on her stomach without additives and preservatives found in store goods, and is better with less sugar.
  • Saving money!

Any Difficulties?

  • Crystal’s teenage sons say it hasn’t been as hard as they thought it might be.  She didn’t want to spend a lot of time gardening, so she’s pleased that it takes so little weeding.
  • Dave says the soil provided is so rich that it’s great for plant growing.  One can start small with the two raised gardens, so it’s not so overwhelming starting out.  And he agrees with Crystal that he hasn’t had to do much weeding.
  • The gardeners have used cages or mesh to keep out critters like squirrels and rabbits.  Carol used two hula hoops, cut in half and hooped, to stretch netting over the plants. (See photo)
  • They have had difficulty this year with a pesty bug that eats big leafy plants like broccoli, cabbage and collard greens.  Experts at Growing Hope responded to inquiries with suggestions for a specific organic product.
  • Also, the program’s late start (June) made it harder for cool weather plants like spinach, though this will be alleviated next year with an earlier start.
  • Finding out best yard locations (with sufficient amount of sun light) is a first year learning experience.


  • “I made a diagram of the plants,” said Rick, “so next year I can do better.  I want to stagger the planting so I can get tomatoes throughout the season.”
  • Pots work well, too, and expand what you can plant. (See photo of strawberries)
  • Think about using raised gardens in the front yard, which isn’t used as much as a backyard.
  • Start small.
  • Use cages or stakes to hold plants like tomatoes off the ground.
  • Protect plants in cool weather and even over winter by using row covers or season extension kits to harvest all year round. The row cover is like a shear blanket protection for plants, and the season extension kits cover plants like a mini green house. Both of these products are sold at Growing Hope’s garden supply store called YpsiPlanti.
  • Juicers are a good way to use vegetables (add hot peppers for extra zing).
  • Consider installing a rain barrel for fresh water and savings on your water bill.
  • Call Growing Hope for advice and questions.  Check out their workshops.

The excitement and adventurous fun are evident from all of the gardeners.

Coming up?  Potentially the program will be expanded to additional families next year.

And:  “I’m going to plant a pumpkin patch for my grandchildren,” says Pam.  “I’m so excited!”

Thank you to Marci Cameron for funding this program, following up with the families, and writing this wonderful article!