Guest post by Gregory Jackson
I began volunteering in Vermont with Habitat for Humanity in the late 1990’s. Then, after Hurricane Katrina, I volunteered in New Orleans for two weeks each year, four years in a row. Listening to the homeowners’ stories, as well as working with “like-minded” volunteers, motivated me to stay involved.
After I moved to North Carolina, I found Habitat for Humanity of Durham, which had a fantastic staff and ambitious goals. When I retired from a career in IT on December 31, 2014, I decided my free time would be well spent working with them four days a week. By January 2018, I completed over 4,000 hours with Durham Habitat and received the Presidential Volunteer Lifetime Award.
Durham Habitat has given me a purpose during my retirement. My volunteer work is to provide homes to well deserving but financially challenged families. Habitat’s ideology of “giving a hand up rather than a hand out” fits nicely with my personal beliefs. Habitat homeowners pay Habitat for their homes at zero percent interest with those funds going back into building more homes and sustaining the process. There is no down payment, but recipients must perform a minimum of 250 (sweat equity) hours, which invests them in the process.
Habitat has also provided me with the opportunity to interact and make new friends with a constantly changing stream of civic-minded individuals. One day we had a group of college students nailing down subflooring on a new floor system. Behind me, I heard a dull thumping. I turned around and saw a young man trying to drive a nail with a rubber mallet. I got up, found a metal hammer and thanked him for volunteering. Then told him, “Try this, we’re trying to make a lot of noise too!” Everyone works together and builds memories together.
Volunteering is far from a selfless act. It provides the individual with the ability to socialize with others, work on tasks that that show visible progress, challenges you to get out of your comfort zone and learn skills that can make you self-sufficient when the need arises (there’s nothing like learning with someone else’s resources). I also view volunteering as a tangible way to “give back” to society without digging into your own pockets, making it a much more gratifying and personal contribution.
I have worked in some pretty “rough” areas, but when a Habitat house goes up, we are constantly praised by neighbors. It has been noted that our activity motivates neighbors to repair or spruce up their own. I feel that we don’t just build homes. We transform neighborhoods.
April is National Volunteer Month, a great time to get involved in Habitat or a new activity. If you’re looking for volunteer work, Reward Volunteers lists opportunities and allows you to track your hours. Participants have a chance to win prizes and get recognition for organizations close to their heart.
Durham Habitat — actually all Habitats — accept any skill level and there is always someone who can provide instruction or field questions. So grab a friend (or not) and find your local Habitat. If you’re in the Durham area, join me at my Habitat. Ask for the guy with the Outback hat. That’s me, Greg Jackson.