Hammering out hope: Local seniors take their places with Habitat
By Melanie Tucker | (email@example.com)
Aretired dentist, home health nurse, school teacher, engineer and several others have all found their second wind at Habitat for Humanity where making a difference is what matters most.
There is a core group of 16 seniors who can be depended upon to show up at the Habitat job sites in Blount County every Tuesday and Thursday and on plenty of Saturdays. Right now, they are busy on Bell Street in Alcoa where five Habitat homes are going up.
People like Rob Stevenson, who moved here from Michigan and had already worked for Habitat while there. He came to Blount County and started showing up for volunteer duties at Habitat sites about a year ago. He’s 69.
He estimates he’s helped build at least a dozen homes here in this community for people who would otherwise not be able to afford a home of their own. “All of these are supposed to be done by the end of the year,” he said as he looked around at the houses in various stages of completion.
He knows this dedicated group he’s a part of is appreciated by Habitat. Susan Hughes, faith relations director and volunteer coordinator for the nonprofit, calls them “The Die Hards.”
Making a contribution
Warren Harris retired in 2000 and has been lending his services to this Christian housing ministry since then. He was a Southern Baptist missionary who came to Blount County from South America. He had helped construct 35 homes but quit counting. That was two years ago.
Harris, Stevenson and the others are ready, tools in hand, usually by 8 a.m. and will stay until early afternoon. Some days, it’s steamy hot by 9 a.m. They don’t seem to notice.
“This is fun,” Harris said. “The results are the important thing.”
This volunteer said he can be out and people will recognize him as being one of the volunteers who helped build their house. Five or more years might have passed; they still remember and are forever grateful.
“There are just lots of stories,” he said.
Busy on this Tuesday morning as well was Ken Sorensen, retired dentist from Minnesota. A resident of Friendsville, he has been doing his part for Habitat for Humanity for the past four years. His family migrated here after his two children came for college.
This group meshes well, and all have their talents to share. “All of us like to build things,” Sorensen said. “It’s also nice to see the people’s faces on dedication day. That’s pretty awesome.”
Sorensen, like these other volunteers, said he tries to attend as many dedications as possible. That’s the day new home owners take possession of their homes as everybody who had a part gathers for a celebration.
“This is an opportunity of a lifetime for folks,” Sorensen said. “There is no other way they would be able to own a home.”
Leader of the pack
Talk to any of these guys for very long and all will want to talk about the longevity and hard work of one of their peers, Bill Mueller. He will soon turn 86 and has been volunteering with Habitat since 1994.
“There have been 130 homes and I’ve probably worked on 90 of them,” Mueller estimated.
He moved here in 1969. His introduction to Habitat came when his church sponsored a build. “I started and just kept going,” he said. “I’ve worked my way all the way up to baseboards.”
This isn’t a men-only group of builders. Sara Gregory’s dad was a carpenter so she’s been exposed to this kind of work her whole life. After retiring as a home health nurse four years ago, she found her place among the hammers, nails and heavy equipment. She said Habitat built 10 houses last year; she helped on each of them.
People like Gregory and these other seasoned volunteers often help the newcomers who come to volunteer over a weekend or on one or two houses. “Whoever shows up, you show them what you know and guide them and get out of the way and let them learn,” she said.
The walls will be going up Saturday on Habitat for Humanity’s Faith Build, a collaborative effort of about a dozen or so area churches. Gregory said if there are people looking for something to do, they can come out to East Bell Street in Alcoa Saturday morning and take part.
More hands, hearts
Mike Maher was up on the roof of one of the houses under construction Tuesday morning. A retiree from California, he’s worked on at least a dozen homes. He said under the guidance of experts Harris and Mueller, the work gets done. In between, friendships and fellowship develop. Rounding out this hardworking group are Larry Britton, Mike Bryant, Sandy Miller, Steve Keifer, Blaine Gooden, Don Moore, Alan Barr, Phil Large, Brad Lunde and Don Feather.
Doug Jenkins is Habitat’s construction manager. He said he can always count on this core group to show up and get the job done. The senior group has grown over the past two years as folks hear about their dedication and the camaraderie.
“What’s going on here is amazing,” he said.