Seven Weeks with HFHSL

August 26, 2014
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My name is Paula Roetscher and I am a third year Sustainability Studies major at the University of Florida. I am originally from Germany but moved to the US a little less than 2 years ago to start college and experience the American culture and lifestyle. I interned with Habitat for Humanity Saint Louis (HFHSL) this summer. The following blog post highlights my experiences with HFHSL and the city I have called home the past seven weeks.

In my first year in Florida I volunteered on a build site with Alachua Habitat for Humanity. That was the first time I heard of Habitat for Humanity and even though I did not know much about the organization itself, I enjoyed the atmosphere at the build site and the fact that I got to develop new construction skills As my sophomore year was coming to an end, I decided that I wanted to spend my summer exploring more of the United States and dedicating my time to a worthy cause. An opportunity to go to St. Louis opened up and I stumbled upon the Events and Fundraising Internship advertised by Habitat for Humanity Saint Louis. Remembering my first, very positive encounter with Habitat for Humanity, this seemed like a perfect fit and I was overjoyed when I got offered the position!

Everyone at the Habitat office was very welcoming and I was given the chance to work on several different projects over the past weeks. I have mainly supported HFHSL’s fundraising efforts and helped to plan upcoming events. I have researched fundraising projects for the Habitat Women Build group and the campus chapters at Washington University, Saint Louis University and Ladue High School, and helped out with other miscellaneous tasks. My co-workers also showed me around different places in St. Louis and recommended fun weekend activities such as going up the Arch, spending a day at the City Museum and eating at Ted Drewes! I have come to love St. Louis and even took the time to understand the rules of baseball after seeing the Cardinals beat the Yankees.

Looking back at the past weeks, three experiences with HFHSL stand out the most. In my first week I was taken on a tour of all past and current HFHSL build sites in St. Louis City and County and got to see HFHSL’s lasting contribution to a better future. Only days later I attended the wall raising ceremony at the current build site in the Spanish Lake neighborhood with other staff members, volunteers, sponsors and homeowners. It was then that I realized HFHSL’ achievements truly are the result of a group effort. Lastly, I volunteered on the Spanish Lake build site myself and felt more productive and optimistic than I have in a long time. I learned to use different power tools, helped to put on part of the roof and met great new people. That day I accomplished things I did not think were possible and ultimately, a day of volunteer work taught me a lot about myself, too.

My experience interning with Habitat for Humanity Saint Louis has been absolutely wonderful and opened my eyes not only to the severe lack of decent, affordable housing in the area and its adverse effects on so many people, but also to the power of the individual and the fact that there are a million ways in which each and every one of us can support Habitat’s mission. I am beyond grateful for my fantastic seven weeks with Habitat for Humanity Saint Louis!

Words Used to Describe HFHSL

August 7, 2014
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Volunteers were asked to describe the work of Habitat for Humanity Saint Louis. These are the words they used; the bigger the word the more often volunteers used that word. What other words would you use when talking about HFHSL?

Wordle: HFHSL

CEO Bartends for HFHSL!

July 31, 2014
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Join Kimberly McKinney, CEO of Habitat for Humanity Saint Louis (HFHSL), as she guest bartends at Wild Flower Restaurant & Catering on September 10, 2014 from 6-9pm. Wild Flower, located at 4590 Laclede in the Central West End, will donate a portion of the bar proceeds (including bar and food ordered at the bar) to HFHSL. Plus Kimberly will serve up your favorite cocktails!

Wild Flower serves also serves up a delicious dinner menu and uses local ingredients whenever they are available.

Waffles for HFHSL!

July 28, 2014
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Join us for some of the most scrumptious waffles you have ever tasted! On September 18, MELT is donating 15% of its sales from 5-11pm to Habitat for Humanity Saint Louis. If you haven't tasted their savory or sweet waffles, you are missing out! Ingredients are baked into the waffles or layered on top and they are DELICIOUS. Check out their Facebook page for photos of their dishes and directions to their location.

Meet LaKisha!

July 25, 2014
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LaKisha C. is a Catering Supervisor at the Saint Louis Art Museum, and a mother of a seven (7) year old daughter. Although her daughter is currently in elementary school, she already has her focus on attending college. LaKisha is excited to be in partnership with Habitat for Humanity Saint Louis!

She is grateful for having a place for her and her daughter to live, but she has always wanted more and the partnership with Habitat for Humanity Saint Louis, LaKisha believes, she will accomplish just that. The thought of having a home in a neighborhood with other residents who appreciate and take pride in their neighborhood is what drives LaKisha to make the best of this opportunity.

LaKisha describes how she feels about this opportunity in three words “I’m very happy!”

Where Are They Now?

July 16, 2014
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The house is painted beautifully white, the lawn perfectly manicured. A gold and black “Class of 2018” Vianney sign glistens in the colorful flower bed. I saunter up the stairs of Tesha Stevenson’s home. Tesha, mother of four, purchased her Habitat home in 2007 in the Mark Twain neighborhood. Her bright smile and warm demeanor are infectious. She introduces herself and hugs me, welcoming me into her home like a long lost friend.

Tesha boasts about her children, and rightly so. Maurice, the oldest, went to St. Louis University High School and graduated in May 2013. During school, he worked a part-time job, did homework for two hours every night, and studied Russian. He was on the track team and taught a break dance class. Now, he just finished his first year at Missouri Science and Technology at Rolla, majoring in Mechanical Engineering. Tesha remembers that when they first bought their home, Maurice wanted to mow the lawn every day to make sure it was the best looking house in the street!

Aurelia is a sophomore at Incarnate Word Academy and will spend her summer attending camps at Saint Louis University (SLU) and Washington University, the latter of which she hopes to attend for college. She hopes to become a forensic scientist one day. Her favorite subject is literature and she is looking forward to taking Algebra 2 when classes resume for her junior year.

Anderson was in the Robotics Club and played lacrosse and basketball in middle school. He also won second place in the spelling bee! Anderson recently graduated from Loyola Academy and will be attending Vianney in the fall; they already love the school. He hopes to attend Harvard or Princeton some day.

Lastly, Andrea is perhaps the busiest of the four. She attends Marian Middle School, and all girls’ Catholic school in South City. She attended a University of Missouri Saint Louis (UMSL)’s program for women engineers (she wants to attend Rolla like Maurice) and was recently the lead programmer for her team at a robotics competition. Her favorite subject is math and wants to become an attorney when she grows up.

Tesha, Maurice, Aurelia, Anderson and Andrea are a picture perfect family. Not only were they graceful enough to pose for me on their front steps, but their accomplishments are truly inspiring.

Written by Jackie Randazzo, AmeriCorps VISTA

Post and Photo by Jackie Randazzo, AmeriCorps VISTA

Meet Homebuyer Stephanie!

July 7, 2014
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Stephanie C., the mother of two daughters (ages 18 and 13), describes her oldest daughter as quiet, humble, shy, but opinionated. She is currently attending North County Technical High School where she is preparing to further her education and pursue a career as a culinary chef. The youngest daughter is described as flamboyant and having an “old spirit”, one that has existed before. As a family, they enjoy going to the movies together and taking vacations together.

Stephanie describes herself as being a considerate, kind, and loving individual. Stephanie realizes the sacrifices and challenges that are required to reach home ownership, and she is sure she will be successful in this journey with the staff and volunteers of Habitat for Humanity Saint Louis accompanying her through the process.

It's That Time of Year - Back to School!

June 30, 2014
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Education is the most powerful weapon which can be used to change the world. – Nelson Mandela

Support our kids’ education so that they can make a difference in this world! The Habitat for Humanity Saint Louis Homeowner Ambassador Committee is hosting a Back to School Drive. Together, we can support our children’s education by providing much needed school supplies.

The drive runs from June 21st through August 6th. School supplies for grades Pre-K through High School are welcome. We've provided a list of school supplies for every grade to make your shopping easier!

Items can be dropped off at one of four locations:

Habitat for Humanity Saint Louis (HFHSL) Administration Office
3763 Forest Park Ave, Saint Louis, MO, 63108

HFHSL ReStore Des Peres
2117 Sams Drive, Des Peres, MO 63131

HFHSL ReStore Forest Park
3763 Forest Park Ave, Saint Louis, MO, 63108

Spanish Lake Build Site
12030 Criterion, Spanish Lake, MO 63138

Look for the blue bins!

Kayaking for a Purpose

June 26, 2014
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Mark Twain once said: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do, so throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, Dream, Discover.” These lines uttered by the famous author are ones emulated by four young men on a 2,300 mile journey along the Mississippi River. A journey that brought them to our own backyard at Habitat for Humanity Saint Louis (HFHSL) this past week.

Evan Weisenberger, Conor Emser, Tony Yandek and Beau Hartman, who hail from Athens and Akron Ohio, created Paddle Home. Inspired by their previous volunteer work with Habitat for Humanity and other affordable housing initiatives, Evan, Conor, Tony and Beau will kayak the entire Mississippi River and volunteer with ten Habitat for Humanity affiliates along the way to raise money and awareness on the affordable housing issue.

At the time of this interview, the guys have been out on the river for a little over a month. They paddle approximately twelve hours a day, frequent gas stations for food, and camp or sleep on picnic tables for much needed rest. They have had to dodge water traffic like barges and speedboats and even survive tornadoes. Conor laughs about the night now, but it was a close call. “We were sleeping under a park pavilion when all of a sudden we were woken up in the middle of the night by our phone alarms and the city siren. We scrambled to a public bathroom only to find it was locked! All four of us hunkered down right outside the door. It was crazy.”

Maybe even crueler than a tornado that Evan, Conor, Tony and Beau have had to endure is the monotony of paddling. When I asked if the trip is physically demanding (most were inexperienced kayakers or had never kayaked at all), they said it was not physically but mentally straining.

But what keeps them going, and what ultimately inspired them to take such a journey, are the people. Not just the warm and generous strangers they encounter along the way but the joyful, determined, Habitat homeowners they partner with to build decent, affordable homes. It is safe to say they will not be disappointed they threw off the bowlines and sailed away from safe harbor for this journey, and neither are we.

To follow Evan, Conor, Tony and Beau on their journey, visit their blog.

By Jackie Randazzo, AmeriCorps VISTA

HFHSL AmeriCorps Immerse in Construction

June 19, 2014
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On May 19 through 24, our two AmeriCorps VISTA members, Ebony Sherod and Jackie Randazzo, traveled to St. Croix, Wisconsin to participate in the AmeriCorps Build-a-thon. The AmeriCorps Build-a-Thon brings together Habitat AmeriCorps members, AmeriCorps alums, community volunteers, families, and partners for week-long blitz builds. Build-a-Thon events are held in partnership with local communities and Habitat affiliates and help to meet the host community’s needs for affordable housing while celebrating AmeriCorps members’ service and impact. Jackie and Ebony partnered with Wild Rivers Habitat for Humanity, an affiliate located approximately 90 minutes north of Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Minnesota and serves four rural counties. They each describe the experience in their own words.

Jackie

“This is going to be my room!” shouts three-year-old Derek. He grabs my hand and pulls me to the back of his future home. For now, it is just framed interior walls and a sheathed roof. But by the end of the summer, Derek’s room will have hardwood floors and painted walls. “This is where my bed will go!” He smiles widely.

Derek is the son of Rachel, the future homeowner of the house I had the privilege of building for five days in Centuria, Wisconsin. She is married to Jim, and has two more sons, Devin (7) and Donavin (5). All will move in once the yard is landscaped and the last cabinet is installed.

Before Derek had grabbed my hand that Friday evening, I had worked alongside his mom through bitterly cold, raining mornings and hot, sunny afternoons to frame exterior and interior walls and sheath the roof of their new home. It was exhausting, yet exhilarating. I amazed myself when I utilized several new power tools and scaled the top of the house, even though I am scared of heights.

I was not only amazed by my newfound abilities, but by Rachel’s spirit. She used her limited vacation days and took a week off work to not relax, but rather sweat alongside my fellow AmeriCorps members and me. And not once did she complain. She was the first to the build site and last to leave.

I was reminded why I love volunteering with Habitat for Humanity. It is homebuyers like Rachel, who are determined to provide a future for their children. Someone who wants to succeed, but may just need a little help getting there. And for children like Derek, who have never had a room to call their own.

Ebony

Millard Fuller, founder of Habitat for Humanity International, had it right when he said, ““I see life as both a gift and a responsibility. My responsibility is to use what God has given me to help his people in need.”

It’s not easy going out of your comfort zone and doing something you don’t know much about. It was hard preparing for a week-long event of building houses in another state, not knowing what to expect, but I knew it was my responsibility to go. Once we met the families that were being helped, I knew not only was it my responsibility to help but that I was truly meant to be in St. Croix, Wisconsin for the 2014 Build-a-thon.

This one week was filled with hammers and nails, rain and shine, laughter and tears but most importantly, it was filled with people all across the country coming together for one single purpose: to make sure that everyone had a decent place to live. I had the honor of being able to work alongside homebuyer Katie. Katie will be soon be able to have her dream and own her own home for her and her three children.

The Build-a-thon will be something I will never forget. It was so rewarding to see all the hard work and dedication that goes into building a home and being able to get to know the person in which you are helping. To understand their story and how you are helping change their lives is what truly matters. That week in St. Croix, I felt blessed not only to have this special opportunity, but to be able to meet and work with so many great and giving people.

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