Guest commentary by Donna Holmes, with contributions from Dee Anderson, Jake Brandt and Bob Patton
August 9, 2017, marked Habitat for Humanity’s Pastors’ Build Day in Milwaukee. It was an opportunity for pastors to join in building safe, affordable housing for those in need.
In 2000, a group of representatives from churches of the Presbytery of Milwaukee met and formed the Presbyterian Coalition for Milwaukee Habitat. Each year, a number of churches in the presbytery provided funding and workers to help build homes in the city. According to Bob Patton, a member at Crossroads Presbyterian Church and the former Milwaukee Habitat board president: “We do framing of the homes, insulation, drywall, paint and install the finish wood work. Our team works every Wednesday, some Saturdays and during the two or three framing weeks each year.”
“Our churches have partially or fully funded one home each year. This year the Presbytery of Milwaukee, Crossroads, Wauwatosa, Immanuel, and West Granville Presbyterian churches funded the home. On two Saturdays in May we framed the first and second floors of the Presbytery Habitat Home. Also, we did the drywall in August, will paint and do woodwork in the fall and early winter,” he continued.
The future homeowner worked with the team as she accumulated her sweat equity hours. She should close on the house and move in early in 2018. She will have an interest-free mortgage and likely will also have Habitat’s homeowner’s mortgage payment, which (including escrow for taxes and insurance) is at least $200 less than she was paying in rent. All of this supports Habitat’s goal of providing safe, affordable, decent places to live.
This home is being built in honor of Scott Hauser, Crossroads’ beloved pastor who died in early spring (and also a Presbyterian Outlook blogger). Scott died at age 37 from angiosarcoma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer, leaving behind his wife and their four children. Scott participated in a Habitat build the summer before his diagnosis, wearing his wing-tip shoes when he came directly from work and had forgotten his work shoes. Scott was a supporter of Habitat and encouraged Crossroads to help fund and build Habitat homes.
Dee Anderson, pastor at West Granville Presbyterian Church, shares the following: “The 2017 Milwaukee Habitat for Humanity Pastors’ Build Day, sponsored by Thrivent Financial, was a terrific experience not only to build with the homeowners but to build relationships with Milwaukee-area pastors. The summer day was sunny, weather was cool and there was a feeling of energy and excitement. Many of us were motivated by the opportunity to represent solidarity and support, from diverse faith congregations, united for the neighborhood community.”
The day began with an opening welcome by Habitat executive cirector, Brian Sonderman. Pastor Ikahna of nearby Bethany Lutheran Church led an opening prayer.
“We quickly volunteered between two houses to begin drywalling. We formed two teams in the houses. After introductions, everyone quickly found a job and began measuring, cutting, hanging, fastening and routering drywall. Soon all were covered in drywall dust,” says Dee.
The homeowners joined the teams to share their stories, tell about their families and give encouragement and motivation for the group’s labors. They are people of great strength and a reminder of the pastors’ purpose for volunteering. Soon there was good-natured encouragement and humor.
By the end of the day the team had completed the drywall installation on the entire first floor.
Jake Brandt, marketing and communications manager for Milwaukee Habitat for Humanity, describes a bit about camaraderie between those working at the event and the community which forms: “Some of the young people helping on the house were Americorps members. Americorps members commit to a year of service with our affiliate, working full time in return for a modest stipend and educational grant through the program,” says Jake. “The individuals are most often college graduates looking to serve their communities and learn leadership skills. Americorps members serve in a variety of capacities with organizations across the U.S.” So there was truly a blend of volunteers at site.
The Presbytery of Milwaukee has teamed with Crossroads, Immanuel, Wauwatosa and West Granville Presbyterian Churches to fully sponsor a new construction Habitat home in the Washington Park neighborhood. There is a long-standing relationship between Habitat and the Presbytery of Milwaukee. This year, the presbytery contributed a $10,000 grant. As part of this “Presbyterian Coalition” sponsorship, there are both financial contributions and volunteers’ hours helping build the home. And, each of the pastors committed to the Pastors’ Build Day again next year.
Members of these Presbyterian congregations are building the home alongside the future homeowner, Renee Robinson. Says Renee: “I never thought it was possible to own my own home. It just wasn’t doable through traditional homeownership. But Habitat made it affordable for me.” Renee grew up in a single-family home in Milwaukee with both of her parents. Now that she has kids of her own, she wants to be able to provide the comfort and stability that she was afforded growing up. “I want to have something that I can pass down to my children, and that maybe someday they can pass down to their children.”
Donna Holmes is communications associate for the Presbytery of Milwaukee. She is delighted to be among people so dedicated to social justice, which influenced her recent decision to become a Presbyterian.