Volunteer Spotlight: Jim DeRosia & John Peterson

[Blog by Sophia Williams, Development Associate, Special Events & Marketing] 

110 Countertops for Habitat Thanks to Jim DeRosia & John Peterson!

You use them to hold your groceries, stack your mail, leave hats and gloves, or as a make shift table. We chop, mix, and stir all on our kitchen countertops. For Habitat families countertop activities are made possible by two special volunteers who have been as valuable to our operation as countertops are to everyday life.

Jim DeRosia and John Peterson have been putting the countertops in our homes all the way back to when we built from the ground up. They have hit 110 countertops, that’s 2/3 of all our homes, and they are finally retiring. These men have been great partners of Habitat, volunteering countless hours to our work.

“I always wanted to work for Habitat, but I never really had time to do it,” said Jim. “When I turned 65, I sold my business. I just happened to be driving down the road and I thought I’m gonna call Habitat. I called up and I told them what I did. I had a kitchen and bath design company and was looking to help. They said, well we just happen to be looking for a new Formica guy.” That one phone call changed a lot for us at Habitat, and we are so grateful for the partnership we have had with Jim and John.

Their expertise fit perfectly with what we needed in our Habitat homes. “I just thought it was a good thing to do. I always liked what Habitat did. My stuff worked into it,” said Jim. During Habitat’s early years, Jim and John worked together to build cabinets and countertops for our homes. When the shift to renovation in 2008 increased our annual number of homes constructed, Jim and John focused on building only countertops.

“John used to have a cabinet shop. He’s retired, a veteran that likes to give back,” said Jim. “So I gave him a phone call asking him [about volunteering] and he thought it was cool.” They are a greatly appreciated duo whose work has touched countless families. “I was only charging Habitat for the laminate to do the job. We were giving them all the labor.” said Jim. He and John have donated hundreds of hours of labor to Habitat working towards building up our community. Words cannot express the level of our gratitude for their work.

They continued working with us for about 8 years. “Our goal was to try and hit 100 countertops. John is two years older than I am; we didn’t know if we could make it to 100 or not,” said Jim. They just couldn’t stop after they hit their goal.

“The way Habitat does the homes now, with the remodeling work… I think is a lot better for a neighborhood than doing a new house. Because you’re taking something that’s detracting from the neighborhood and fixing it up to make it nice,” said Jim.

Thank you to Jim and John for partnering with us in making affordable homeownership possible for families of low income. They have been so generous, and we couldn’t do it without volunteers like them. THANK YOU.


5 Myths and Facts About H4HHV

[Blog by Sophia Williams, Development Associate, Special Events & Marketing]

Myth #1: Habitat for Humanity of Huron Valley gives away homes.

Fact:      Habitat offers a no profit mortgage with 0% interest to potential homeowners accepted into our program. Our homeowners purchase their homes with a $1,000 down payment after completing 250 sweat equity hours, classes in home maintenance and repair, and a homeownership legal workshops. They pay their monthly mortgage, property taxes, and home insurance like any other homeowner. Habitat gives people in our community the opportunity to buy simple, decent, and affordable homes. Partner families are also required to demonstrate a need for decent and affordable housing, illustrate a willingness to partner, and have the ability to pay the monthly mortgage. Becoming a partner family means becoming a part of our Habitat family. These families work closely with us through the life of their mortgage and beyond. Habitat for Humanity of Huron Valley offers a hand up, not a hand out to local families.

Myth #2: We build from the ground up.

Fact:      Renovation has been a game changer for us! In 2008
we made a strategic decision to switch from new construction to renovation. We started focusing on specific neighborhoods to put more emphasis on the number of families served, rather than the number of houses built. We work to renovate these existing homes in the most energy efficient way. In our renovations we follow energy star standards providing energy efficient windows, doors, insulation, water heaters, and furnaces. We are focusing in the West Willow, Gault Village, Hawthorne, and Holmes Road neighborhoods, to create a more economically stable and self-sustaining community.

Thanks to your support we have been able to make the switch to renovation in an ever-changing market. Serving even more families. In 2015, 18 families in Washtenaw County became homeowners and now have a safe, stable place to raise their families.

Myth #3: Homeownership is our only focus.

Fact:      We always hear the Habitat part of our name, but the Humanity part is just as important. Homeownership is a huge part of what we do, but it is not the only thing. We are working to make existing homes safe, and sustainable for current homeowners. We strengthen our communities through our Home Ownership Program, Home Improvement Program, and Home Education Program.

Our Hope Improvement Programs (HIP) saves families money
and reduces the carbon footprint of our communities. Many families are just getting by and cannot afford to make upgrades to their homes. Utility bills are usually right behind mortgage payments as the highest monthly expense of owning a home. Our HIP Program aims to alleviate this pressure. Some of the typical repair and weatherization tasks include air sealing, installing insulation, replacing furnaces, water heaters, and refrigerators.

Improving neighborhoods goes beyond the brick and mortar of the home. We want these neighborhoods to be somewhere that people want to live. We have partnered with the New West Willow Neighborhood Association (NWWNA) through our community development efforts. Together we’ve worked to replace a fence along a bike path, build Little Free Libraries, build a new pavilion in a park, and organize team building activities with the residents.

The Habitat Education Program (HEP) is a new program open to the general public. We have found families don’t get accepted into our Home Ownership Program because of their debts or financial instability. We are working to decrease this number. Our goal is to put people in a position where they can own a home through Habitat or buy a home through a conventional mortgage. We are providing education classes to guide people in budgeting their long-term goals against their short-term needs, to use their credit wisely to build a strong credit score, pay off debts, ways to save, reach financial goals, and prepare for financial emergencies.

Myth #4: Homeownership doesn’t matter. 

Fact:      Homeownership improves communities, our economy, and our lives. There are numerous studies that support the importance of homeownership.

Simple, safe, affordable homes should be attainable to everyone. Through our programs we help people achieve their dream of homeownership. Although we do not directly move people from homelessness to homeownership, we work to guide potential homeowners to a safe, sustainable, affordable home. We are working hard to improve our community: one neighborhood, one street, one home, one family at a time.

Myth #5: Jimmy Carter Founded Habitat for Humanity.

Fact:      Habitat for Humanity International was actually founded by Millard and Linda Fuller in 1976. Millard was a self-made millionaire by age 29 but he found his health, marriage, and integrity were suffering because of it. To change their lives into something meaningful, Millard and his wife sold their belongings and gave all their fortunes away. That is when they began the great work that Habitat for Humanity affiliates everywhere do. (http://www.habitat.org/how/millard.aspx)

Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn have done amazing work with Habitat! They started their journey in 1984 when Habitat was founded. They now lead the Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project for Habitat for Humanity International one week each year. Rob Nissly, our Housing Director at H4HHV, has led several Jimmy Carter Work Projects. From 2011 to 2015 Rob has been the leader for teams in Leogane, Haiti; Staten Island, NY; Dallas, TX; and Kathmandu, Nepal.

Lowe’s Funds Neighborhood Revitalization in West Willow


[Blog by Sarah Teare, Community Development Director]

The West Willow neighborhood in Ypsilanti has been bustling with activity recently due to a partnership between the New West Willow Neighborhood Association (NWWNA), Habitat for Humanity of Huron Valley, and Lowe’s. In April 2015, Habitat was awarded a $70,000 grant from Lowe’s for neighborhood revitalization implementation activities aimed at strengthening relationships, beautifying the neighborhood, and developing new partnerships. From April – December 2015, 299 residents from the neighborhood and volunteers from partner organizations contributed 1369 hours in the following activities. This included 15 Lowe’s employees who volunteered and/or led projects.

  • Neighborhood clean-up day focusing on the entrance areas to the neighborhood, West Willow Park, Dodge Court, and the Community Resource Center with volunteers from EMU and Red, White & Blue,
  • Exterior Home Improvements on 25 homes with volunteers from UM Executive MBA, Thrivent Builds Repairs, and Student Veterans of America.
  • Replaced over 300 feet of fence panels along the biking & walking path with volunteers from Arbor Research, UM Public Health, EMU Softball, Samsung, JCI, APO, and Habitat partner families.
  • Built and installed two Little Free Libraries.
  • Kicked off the renovation of the Habitat house at 1041 Nash with a morning celebration followed by a volunteer day for Lowe’s employees.

In addition to volunteer activities, the grant funded several events to bring residents together. These included a Spring Into Action Potluck, the annual fall Potluck held by the neighborhood association, a Financial Wellness Fair, and the annual summer picnic. The grant also provided items that the neighborhood Action Teams feel are important to their work including car magnets and front door hangers for the Citizens Patrol promoting neighborhood safety; t-shirts and anti-drug books and pamphlets for the Drug Activity Action Team; an inflatable movie screen, projector, and popcorn machine for the Youth Relations Action Team to use at family movie nights; new laptops, a printer/scanner/copier, flash drives, and software for computers at the Community Resource Center; A-frame standing signs for the NWWNA to promote events; and benches, trash cans, and bike racks in partnership with the Neighbor Relations and Litter, Trash, & Debris Action Teams.

Lowe’s awarded $1.2 million in grants to 14 Habitat affiliates across the country to support more than 300 community projects as part of Habitat’s Neighborhood Revitalization program, an effort to serve more families through community development partnerships. A national partner since 2003, Lowe’s has committed more than $63 million to Habitat for Humanity and helped more than 4,000 families improve their living conditions.

We are very grateful to Lowe’s for their support of neighborhood revitalization in West Willow!

When Community and Business Collides

[Blog by Sophia Williams, Development Associate, Special Events & Marketing]

LaGail Steward and Nevea, her 5-year-old daughter, were embraced in a house filled with love. This petite women with the heart of a warrior celebrated her home dedication Sunday, January 24 at 1464 S. Harris Rd. in the Gault Village neighborhood of Ypsilanti. Her new home was filled with people there to support her, including a number of people from Toyota who provided the financial and volunteer support for this renovation as a house sponsor.

Kristen Tabar, Vice President of Toyota Technical Center, has been to many dedications, but she said this one was different. “Look at how full this house is! There is always a lot of people. It’s really nice to see that they have the support, but today is crazy, she’s got a huge house full. She’s gonna be just fine, she’s really gonna be just fine. A lot of people here are ready to help her,” said Kristen.

Habitat and Toyota share the value of community. “For Toyota we have a few really… simple principles that we follow that align perfectly with Habitat. We really try to show respect for people. One of the ways we do that is actually integrating ourselves and giving back to our community and working with the people in the community where we work,” said Kristen. Toyota has partnered with Habitat renovating   four homes on this street alone.

Thanks to Toyota, Habitat has renovated eight homes in Washtenaw County. These hard working volunteers are passionate about Habitat’s work. “Of course we are a huge team of engineers, and we love to build stuff and work with our hands… staff at the center just love to come out here.” Kristen says. Toyota starts their sign-up process in the spring and when they open up enrollment for volunteers it is filled up within two days. There is even a waitlist according to Kristen!

Each homeowner has sweat equity hours that they have to complete before moving into their new home. They are side by side with the volunteers, working on a house that was once just a dream but is now being transformed into something so much more. “It’s so nice to get to know the partner families who are eventually going to be a part of the community and really see how dedicated they are.” She adds. “They are so committed to these projects, they really want to know how to do things. They really want to move themselves to a more stable environment. These homes are just…this is just the perfect opportunity,” said Kristen.

One of Kristen’s favorite parts of the dedication is seeing the kids. “For the parents and the adults it’s a life changing event to become a homeowner,” she said. “Not only for them, but for their kids. It changes their lives forever. They have their own home. Like LaGail said, ‘this is something we will own.’ It teaches her daughter responsibility. It gives her a better life. She can aspire to more, she can achieve more, she can work hard and she can get it,” said Kristen.

LaGail finished her sweat equity hours in December. “It was a lot of fun, I learned a lot of stuff,” said LaGail. Every time LaGail is in her home she will know she was a part of this amazing transformation.

It is because of Toyota, our donors, and our volunteers, that Habitat is able to revitalize our community. A huge thank you to everyone who helped renovate this home in one way or another. We are continuing this great work of providing safe and affordable homeownership opportunities to families of low income in Washtenaw County. Your donation can help us strengthen our community- one neighborhood, one family, one house at a time.