Whether working on a construction site, at the ReStore, in the office, or “anonymous” in public, most Habitat for Humanity (HFH) staff or volunteers display warm smiles and genuine hospitality. Their labor is one that begets encouragement, love, and hope. Many people are familiar with HFH due to the efforts of former president Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, who started their benevolent work in 1984. Yet President Carter did not found HFH; it was established in 1976 by Millard and Linda Fuller.
Dr. David Palmstrom was one of the last “traveling doctors” in Portage county, and he had first-hand knowledge of the conditions in which he saw so many people live. He was heartbroken and, in 1988, he and Rev. Donald Preslan founded the Portage County HFH.
Since then, it has thrived and today there are four people who staff the office and eight who run the ReStore on South Water Street in Kent. Dr. Palmstrom has since passed away, but so great was the Palmstrom’s love for the organization, Mrs. Palmstrom on occasion still visits construction sites.
The ReStore is a retail outlet that serves as the main fund raiser for Portage County HFH, and all of the goods they sell are donated. The Restore does not sell toys or clothing, but instead focuses on hard goods that benefit the outfitting of homes. Many volunteers offer their time and talent within the ReStore as they repair appliances, refurbish furniture, do small engine repair, and fix the wiring of donated materials, among many other things.
The Portage County HFH usually builds/remodels two houses per year. Habitat has a huge “word-of-mouth” following and advertises their services via church bulletins, social service organizations, and social media, to name a few. Habitat works closely with cities in finding either houses that face demolition (and can be remodeled) or blighted lots.
People who are in need and meet the criteria apply to become a “partner family.” Why “partner?” Because these families have sweat equity in the construction of their home, which means they must complete 500 hours of work for a two-adult family. “Sweat equity” means helping construct their home and the homes of others. It could include helping clear the lot, construction, painting, bringing food for volunteers, or aiding the staff at the office. Partner families receive a 0% interest loan from the Hometown Bank in Kent, who has been very generous with their time and help with HFH. Other volunteers include church, business, and school groups, and individuals. Criteria and FAQs may be found on the Portage County Habitat for Humanity website https://www.habitatofportage.org.
Dominique Burrell (Most people just call her, “Dom.”) is a reflection of Christ to everyone she meets. Employed by Habitat for five years, Dom began her affiliation with the Portage County chapter when she was part of an assigned service group in the Christian high school she attended. She is now the volunteer coordinator for the ReStore and construction sites, events assistant, and helps with “in-kind” donations.
Dominique loves to share stories of the changes she sees in families as a result of partnering with Habitat. She smiled as she spoke of a family Habitat helped a few years ago, “We helped a veteran and his family build a home. Before it was built, his children (from a previous marriage) couldn’t stay with his new family because there was no space. Now they have a beautiful place and a growing relationship. And the mom is now on the Partner Family Committee. She understands and gives back with the empathy only known by someone who’s been in the same predicament.”
“These houses can change a whole generation.”
“What makes Habitat different from a lot of other organizations that help people is that in addition to meeting physical needs, we meet spiritual needs,” A lot of people don’t know that HFH is a Christian organization.
“We bring dignity to people because of jesus.”
Dom adds, “I’m not passionate about housing. I’m passionate about people because Jesus is. And we get to share the Good News with our partner families!” She continued, “It’s not hard to ask for donations for Habitat For Humanity because I want to help provide a home for people I know and have come to love.”
In addition to ongoing financial donations and the ReStore revenue, Portage County’s Habitat for Humanity hosts an annual fund raising event titled, Recycle, Refocus, Restore. It’s a lot of fun for the participants who repurpose things and the evening’s guests vote for their favorite and it then gets auctioned off. This year’s event is June 15 at the American Legion’s Underwood Hall in Kent.