Supporting Our Community
Last week, the Fremont Area Habitat for Humanity was in a bind.
The non-profit, which uses volunteer labor to build affordable houses for those in need, has been behind on building its homes in the past several years, owing in large part due to a steady decline in volunteers, says Executive Director Joy McKay.
And for the house being built at 1351 Maxwell Avenue — one of three on the docket this year — there was still a lot of work to be done before winter took hold.
“This third house at the beginning of last week was just a hole in the ground,” McKay said. “I mean we had the basement, the foundation and everything was poured, but that was it.”
With the cold weather already setting in, McKay said, if the framing didn’t go up soon, it likely couldn’t go up until spring, which would delay a lot of other work that could be done inside the house.
And so Habitat for Humanity’s construction manager Pat Brown called Christensen Lumber, which has been a longtime supporter of the group.
And they answered the call.
That same day, Nov. 20, a group of 10 crew members came out to the site. By the end of the next day, the framing was completely finished. The shape of a future home was built.
They had done all of it, in two days, for free.
“If we didn’t get it framed, then that pretty much has to sit there until it warms up enough again to get several groups of volunteers out to help frame it,” McKay said. “We probably won’t be able to do siding until it warms up some, but they can start working on the rest of it, and they can work on the inside now.”
Christensen Lumber has long been connected with Habitat for Humanity, and its level of involvement has evolved over the years, said company President Tom Christensen. What started out as simply helping the group out with pricing, grew into getting more involved on the job site.
“We’ve gone from helping hands, to donating a framing job for the whole house,” Christensen said. “It’s just a good cause, and it fits our business model really well. When I have the talent, when I have the production capabilities and the team members, we’re a natural.”
Christensen remembers Brown’s Nov. 20 call, and recalls hearing that the group was having concerns about timing in finishing the house. So willing crew members were pulled from their usual job sites and put onto a new project: to help build a Habitat home.
“It worked out really well,” Christensen said. “We were just at a point in time where everything was kind of in between jobs and the stars aligned just right.”
Blanca Chavez, who will ultimately own the house and who has been contributing labor on the job site, was certainly appreciative. According to her daughter, Jessica, who translated during an interview with Blanca, when Blanca saw pictures of the framing texted to her on her phone, she began to cry.
“She started to thank God for everything that they were doing over there,” Jessica said. “She was so excited and started to cry.”
The next step is the sheeting, and then the roofing, which Habitat has historically hired people to do, due to a lack volunteers comfortable doing roof work.
Throughout the years, many companies have volunteered to help with the framing of houses, including Strand & Son Construction.
While Habitat aims to let its regular volunteers do most of the work on houses, framing is a more involved job that often involves more experience — and the group is always looking for people with that experience to come out and help.
“We like to do framing with our volunteers, but it takes a lot longer,” McKay said.
Christensen Lumber’s willingness to help on such short notice helped Humanity with both its time crunch and its focus on keeping the cost of building down for families. In the past, under desperate circumstances, the group has had to pay to have work done.
“It just adds to the cost of the house which adds to the cost for the families,” she said.
Habitat is working on two other homes as well.
One, on Fifth Street, is nearly done, and had been prioritized because it was being partially funded by a time-limited grant.
Another, on Ninth street, still has quite a bit of work done, but is now up and insulated and in need of drywall. Two other houses are being “recycled” or renovated for use.
The houses have taken longer during the past few years, in part because Habitat has added garages to many of their newer homes, which have added time.
Also, in recent years, Habitat’s regular volunteer pool has dwindled. The group now has three regular volunteers, down from a peak of around 10, McKay said.
Many have gotten older and have moved to other forms of volunteerism, like working in the Habitat HomeStore.
Others can be worried about the time commitment.
“If you just want to come once or twice that’s fine,” said Habitat’s Emily Jones. “And if you don’t know a lot about construction, it’s OK, too.”
The best recruiting efforts have come from businesses, churches or other organizations putting together a group to go out for a day of work, McKay said.
More information on Habitat for Humanity can be found at www.fremonthabitat.org.
-Farrell, James "Christensen Lumber Donates Time, Materials to Habitat" Fremont Tribune Nov 28, 2018