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Celebrating 30 Years with Family

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From the Desk of Jim Morris, President & CEO

How do you recognize 30 years of fulfilling our mission of bringing people together to build homes, communities and hope? Our board, staff and Tiger Team (the men and women in orange that volunteer weekly) understand that our role in the mission is to “bring people together.” The families we are privileged to walk with in their journey to a better, healthier and more financially stable life in Greater Indianapolis are the reason we exist.

The families’ success is ultimately what matters most to us. While we have achieved a lot with them, we wanted to make our 30th anniversary about them, so what better way than to amp up our annual homeowner gathering aptly named “HabiFest.” Since we were founded in 1987, we decided to return to the 80’s with a throw-back party at Skateland. Watch the video below for a recap or view photos from the event!

More than 200 family members joined us as the older adults channeled their inner 12 year-old and the kids outshone us on the skating rink. There was some fantastic 80’s attire and our families said it was the best HabiFest we have hosted.

While the event was a huge success with our largest turnout, we also paused to reflect on the 85 families that have now fully paid off their 0% mortgage. Our generous sponsors, donors and volunteers have made a difference in nearly 600 total families and now 85 of those families fully own their home – a feat many Americans don’t realize.

In Matthew 22:36-40, Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment is. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  I don’t know if Jesus had Skateland in mind as a venue to do this, but it definitely served as a great setting to highlight 30 years of seeing the results of this commandment realized in the success of our families.

Remembering Al Clark

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From the Desk of Jim Morris, President & CEO

Habitat has provided me more in the last 23 years than I provided as a Tiger volunteer.” Al Clark, long-time Tiger Team volunteer. Pictured below with his first volunteer T-shirt, which is also the first Tiger Team T-shirt from 1995.

Al Clark volunteered with Habitat for 23+ years and in late April at the age of 85, he passed away. Many people cross your path in your professional and personal life. Tall and lean with a white beard and handlebar mustache, Al was one of those individuals that no matter how busy my day may be, I simply loved to stop and listen to his stories of his involvement with our mission.

He was more reflective than usual on the day he shared his statement with me about his time volunteering after retirement. He said his weekly Habitat volunteering gave him purpose and created in him a quality of life that he saw disappear in many of his peers who did not have that after retirement. It was a simple, seemingly paradoxical but profound statement. Al had personally affected hundreds of families during his volunteer time. He was a pillar in our work for 23 of the 30 years in existence. Yet, he felt that Habitat gave more to him than he did to it.

I often comment that when you strip away the complexity of our work, our role of facilitating neighbor helping neighbor is a simple privilege to witness. Every week, I see firsthand the display of Jesus’s second greatest commandment to love your neighbor as yourself in the work of thousands of individuals. Our Tiger Team of 60+ mostly retired men and women that Al was a part of volunteering weekly routinely inspire me, but Al’s words had a particular impact on me during that lunch.

Jesus also said in Mathew 10:39 (MSG translation) that “if your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me.” This is what struck me the most. I won’t judge those that pursue a life of retirement where rest and relaxation and material possession are the predominant aspirations, but Al and the rest of the Tiger Team are the model I want to pursue both now and in retirement.

If you want to act on Al’s wisdom and Jesus’s teaching, we welcome you to become a part of our Tiger volunteer family or engage in a myriad of other missional work out there that inspires you. Contact our volunteer team to learn more.

Home is the Key : Jim

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At our home blessings, the homeowner is passed their key to unlock the door and begin the transition from house to home.  Each homeowner has already worked on the construction or rehabilitation of their home and are ready to begin paying their mortgage at 0% interest, but the passing of the keys is symbolic to the completion of one journey and the beginning of another.

Fittingly, Home is the Key is the name of a signature campaign that Habitat for Humanity International is promoting throughout the month of April.  You may have seen the promotion in USA Today on Friday, April 7.  While Habitat for Humanity officially started its mission 41 years ago, this is the first national campaign of this scale. This now annual campaign is meant to shine a light on Habitat’s work to meet the need for decent, affordable housing throughout the US.

The campaign will profile Habitat’s strategies to help improve communities and will highlight the important role of homeownership in helping families achieve strength, stability and self-reliance.

Just in greater Indianapolis, the Fair Market Rent rate is $809, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition “Out of Reach 2016” study.  Low and moderate income households spend too much of their monthly income, often over 40%, at this rental rate and cannot escape the cyclical poverty challenges.

Our monthly mortgage rates at 0% keep payments below $500 per month, allowing for a household with low or moderate income to stabilize their housing situation, while also strengthening their housing situation.

While a key is the symbol to turn the house into a home, the families are the reason our mission of bringing people together to build homes, community and hope is so needed.  Keep an eye out for the Home is the Key campaign this month.  Share it with others as well.

ReStore-Spring Cleaning : Jim the CEO

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Officially the first day of spring this year is Monday, March 20, and ironically, I am writing this as it is snowing outside my window.  Because we experienced an extremely mild winter in Indianapolis, many of us have gotten to enjoy the outside in February when we were normally trapped inside and yearning for spring. This snow, as a last-minute reminder of winter, is expected in Indiana.

According to the American Cleaning Institute (yes there is an institute or association for everything), more than 70 percent of Americans take part in some form of spring cleaning every year.  HGTV and other media have also made decluttering your home very popular.

If you are getting ready to spring clean, declutter or simplify, Greater Indy Habitat for Humanity has the perfect outlet for your extra items.  Donate the items you have gathered to one of our three conveniently located ReStores.  Your gently used or unused item can be donated and turned into revenue that pays for our organization’s administrative and overhead costs. This revenue allows every contributed dollar we receive to go our mission of bringing people together to build homes, communities and hope.

Haven’t heard of the ReStore? It is a home improvement thrift store that sells donated, new and gently used merchandise at a significant discount to the general public. Whether from your home or a business, our ReStores are perfect places for completing your spring cleaning efforts.

From a business
Santarossa Marble and Tile is a great example of a business “spring cleaning” their inventory as they donated over 150 pallets of new tile, carpet tile, rolls of vinyl and crate stone basins to clear way for their new inventory.  Their donation is a tax benefit to their company, and they appreciate that the product is used to create revenue for the Habitat mission.  We have the storage and the capability to pick up large donations.

From a home
Homeowners can donate large items like appliances, furniture, windows, doors, lighting, tools, cabinets, sinks and so much more.  We have had a homeowner donate entire kitchens because they are remodeling their residence.

We pick up your items
No matter if it is a business or homeowner donating goods to the store, we will come and pick up your donation.  Just call us at the closest store to you, and we’ll schedule a time:

Indianapolis: 317.777.6098

Greenfield: 317.318.9458

Avon: 317.707.7530

You can also shop at one of our stores for both new and used items at half the price of retail.  Our ReStores complement our mission well, so as you are spring cleaning, donate to one of our stores, receive a tax benefit and maybe even shop a little!

Global Village Trip in the Dominican Republic

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What makes a house a home? I recently returned from a trip to the Dominican Republic, where I participated with several other CEOs from various Habitat for Humanity affiliates from around the country to learn about the impact Habitat is having in the Dominican Republic.

We had the opportunity to work alongside one of the families Habitat Dominican Republic is helping to build a home. A mom and her baby lived in what we would describe in the U.S. as a shack. It was next to her parent’s home that didn’t have enough room in it for her and her baby. Corrugated metal was manipulated, along with metal and wood scraps to form the exterior. It had no indoor plumbing or electricity. Most of us have better accommodations for our lawnmowers.

At no more than 150 square feet of space, this was her house. It kept her mostly safe from rain and the elements. She stored what clothes and possessions she had in it. She sleeps in it and is raising her child in it. Soon Habitat Dominican Republic will work alongside her to finish her block home that will have indoor plumbing and electricity, which will greatly improve her safety and health conditions for her baby and give her more space.

I had walked inside to see the interior of the house that she called home. As I exited the darkness of the house and entered the bright, afternoon sunlight through the one doorway, I discovered what made the house a home. My head grazed a small, but shiny wind chime, hanging from the top of the doorway. As I turned back to look at the full structure, I was struck by the fact that no matter the condition of her house, this mom was going to do what she could to make it her home. To me, this wind chime symbolized her effort to make it her home.

Maybe watching the chimes dance under a brisk wind took her mind off of reality. Maybe she liked how the solid shine of wind chimes glittered against the rugged tapestry of metal and wood, or even less esoteric, maybe it simply was her way of turning a house into a home.

Habitat for Humanity currently works in nearly 70 countries worldwide and has helped more than 6.8 million people with improved living conditions since 1976. Strength, stability and independence are key components to the work we do. What is at the heart of what we do is creating a better a home situation. By doing this, we are truly fulfilling the vision to provide everyone a decent place to live and call home.

2016 Milestones, 2017 Goals

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From the desk of Jim Morris, President & CEO

By this time of January, the holidays are clearly in the rear view mirror and many of us are living into the spirit of renewal as a benefit of a New Year. Our energy is on 2017 planning. Our board, staff, and Tiger Team (our “mostly” retired group of regular volunteers) are preparing to accomplish the year’s goals from activities like finalizing the budget, creating the build project calendar, and preparing the workshop for another fulfilling year.

While our team’s planning rhythm and contagious energy is familiar for the start of the year, it will be unique as we will recognize 30 years of bringing people together to build homes, communities and hope (learn more about our founding). Be on the lookout for a few fun things to highlight our 30th anniversary.

Before we dive into 2017 plans, reflecting on 2016 showed that with the support of our donors, sponsors, Tigers, and board, we walked alongside 65 families throughout Hancock, Hendricks and Marion counties to provide 21 new or rehabbed homes and 44 repairs that helped preserve homes for owners. That is the most housing solutions provided in the history of the organization.

We hit a few additional milestones last year:

In 2017 the goal is to build and rehab 27 homes and provide 40 repairs to existing homes. We’ll continue building on the tradition of our three main theme builds: the State Fair Agricultural Build, Women Build, and the Interfaith Build. We will be building in Hendricks County, Marion (in a variety of neighborhoods) and Hancock County.

I invite you to jump in and join us this year. Donate. Volunteer. Visit one of our ReStores. We look forward to seeing you help build strength and stability through homeownership in 2017.

In This Season of Gratitude

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From the desk of Jim Morris, President & CEO

“One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him — and he was a Samaritan.” Luke 17:15-16 (NIV)

Thanksgiving has been my favorite of the holidays in my adult life. I am that husband/dad who wants to hear around the Thanksgiving table what areas my family is thankful. Whether at the Thanksgiving table or spontaneously prompted, many of us will list similar blessings – family, health, friends, home, etc. These are all blessings that we have good reason to be thankful. I am particularly grateful as I feel I have one of the best vocations anyone could have.

I will often share that my role as president & CEO of Greater Indy Habitat for Humanity, where I help guide our team to bring our mission of seeking to put God’s love into action, by bringing people together to build homes, communities and hope into reality, is a privilege. It is a privilege to witness generosity each week. It is a privilege to visibly see neighbor loving neighbor, especially during this election year when the tail wagging the dog media tends to provide us with the worst side of humanity.

It is the “bringing people together” portion of the mission for which I am most grateful. I recently spoke to a potential new board member who asked how much volunteer labor helped us save money on building homes. While there are some cost savings, Jonathan Reckford, Chief Executive Officer Habitat for Humanity International, puts it best when he says that volunteerism is not a construction cost-reduction strategy, but a community engagement strategy. There are often more effective and efficient methods to reducing costs when building affordable housing than using volunteer labor, but community participation in bringing strength and stability to fellow “neighbors” is at the heart of what makes Habitat so necessary.

This is why the man in Luke 17:11-19 resonated with me this time of year. It’s the story of when Jesus had compassion, mercy and grace for ten lepers on the roadside, and healed each one of them. Only one man was so overwhelmed and full of thankfulness, that he took the time to share his thanks.

This year again I am humbled and resonate with the healed leper in my gratefulness. More than 8,000 volunteers from nearly 100 companies, churches and schools will help build/rehab 21 homes and provide 29 homeownership repairs for the elderly, physically unable, and/or low-income households.

My grateful posture extends to the 21 families who have worked 300+ hours each to prepare to purchase their home at 0% interest. They are truly an inspiration. Someday, we look forward to them joining the 81 households that have fully paid off their mortgage as of this year.

Our means to bringing strength, stability and independence to families is homeownership, either by providing first-time, low-income families the opportunity to purchase and own their home, or helping to preserve current homes of underprivileged families. Families in poverty realize that owning a home is not the only means to achieving their aspiration to move out of poverty. It is a huge step toward stability and asset building. Just like the healed leper still had other problems he would have to face, new Habitat homeowners have other challenges as well. I am grateful for their efforts, privileged to have my role, and truly thankful to all of you who have partnered with homebuyers and homeowners through Habitat this year. We count you as a great blessing.

Stability can Help Defeat the Challenge of Mobility

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From the desk of Jim Morris, President & CEO

This correlation shows my age, but for me September was always the month recognized for returning to school. With the change in school calendars, many students now go back to school in early August. My seventh-grader and fifth-grader each started school the first week of August. My son, the seventh-grader, and I reflected recently that he has never attended the same school for more than two years. He went to three different elementary schools; each move because our family moved residences. My daughter has attended two schools.

When asked if either would like to move between several schools in the same school year, they both agreed “that would stink.” “How would you make friends?” my daughter asked. “How could you keep up in class?” my son added.

Greater Indy Habitat for Humanity recently participated in a study (Residential mobility of single mothers in the Indianapolis’ Mid-North area neighborhoods: An exploratory study of chronic moving prepared by Sagamore Institute for Policy Research) on the mobility of students within the same school year, particularly among those considered to be in poverty. The study concluded that single mothers have the greatest challenge with mobility.*

Financial difficulties like lack of housing affordability, loss of stable employment, foreclosure and eviction, or the high cost of rent were major reasons why single mothers moved residences. A mother I spoke to who purchased a home with Greater Indy Habitat revealed that her son had never had a dresser because they moved regularly. Instead, he just put his clothes in a trash bag. She (and he) was elated to have the stability of a home, which also meant he could have a dresser for his clothes.

Anyone living out of a trash bag because of the absence of a stable home is difficult to swallow. The mobility study also reveals that children’s school performance can suffer because of frequent moving. “Student mobility impacts not only students who change schools but also classrooms that have to adjust to a changing student enrollment. Teachers struggle to balance the introduction of the new student while maintaining the education level of the entire classroom. Similarly, classes were not taught consistently across schools, even within districts, such that students faced further change when they were placed in a misaligned course (i.e. -being in Algebra II when knowledge is at an Algebra I level). For students who transfer without a record or transcript, class placements can take weeks to months to perfect, creating more lost time.”

Affordable homeownership provides stability. Greater Indy Habitat’s affordable homeownership program of education, community engagement through volunteerism and a 0% interest mortgage are the building blocks to that stability. It also ensures no child has to live out of a trash bag anymore.

*Study results are in final draft form and expected to be published soon. Please check back with the Sagamore Institute website for the completed study.

Multiplying the Miniscule to Build Respect

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Jim Morris (1)From the Desk of the CEO

In the Habitat for Humanity values, we state that through faith, the miniscule can be multiplied to accomplish the magnificent; and that, in faith, respectful relationships can grow among all people. While I always appreciate alliteration, recent events of violence in the United States and the current political rhetoric and atmosphere both at the state and national level have challenged my belief in this value, especially the last part about respectful relationships growing among all people.

Go to the foundation

Through faith, Clarence & Florence Jordan and Martin & Mabel England formed a religious community in southern Georgia in 1942 called Koinonia (originating from Greek to mean Christian fellowship or community), where they farmed for their livelihood and built relationships with neighbors. A core principle for the community was that all are brothers and sisters all are equal under the parentage of a loving God. In the early 40’s, Koinonia set about having black and white families work, live and worship alongside of each other peacefully and equally. Respect was commonplace at Koinonia.

Koinonia was the birthplace of what became Habitat for Humanity. Clarence Jordan is considered the spiritual founder of Habitat, while Millard and Linda Fuller launched the current model that is still in place now 40 years later. The founders of Koinonia inspired the value today of which I am wrestling. They lived it. Koinonia still prospers 74 years later in Americus, Georgia, but their commitment to racial equality, pacifism, and economic sharing brought bullets, bombs and a boycott in the 1950s as the KKK and others attempted to force them out. Koinonia was a beacon of hope when it seemed like hatred was everywhere.

How did they do it? They responded with prayer, nonviolent resistance, and a renewed commitment to live the Gospel.

Challenges of yesterday, today, tomorrow

Now, over 50 years later our country is still seeing division along racial lines played out with violence. In the Indianapolis Star on July 25th, it was reported that the Ku Klux Klan distributed more than 200 letters to Fishers residents, calling for white Americans to “wake up,” encouraging them to join United Northern & Southern Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. If you only paid attention to the news, it would appear that not much has changed.

In the New York Times article by columnist David Brooks, titled “Are we on a path to national ruin?” Brooks references the late 19th century as potentially similar to our current times of division. He wrote, “Back in the 1880s and 1890s, America faced crises as deep as the ones we face today. The economy was going through an epochal transition, then to industrialization. The political system was worse and more corrupt than ours is today. Culturally things were bad, too. Racism and anti-immigrant feelings were at plague-like levels. Urban poverty was indescribable. And yet America responded.” Read the full article here.

He references various instances where people responded with ways to multiply the miniscule to accomplish magnificent things with and for others.

We can debate the differences between our current ethnic and socioeconomic division and that of any point in the past. Is it better? Is it worse? That can be healthy, but I am more interested how Greater Indy Habitat for Humanity can build off the legacy of Koinonia and be a beacon of hope. Our heritage is wrapped up in action as Koinonia has shown.

How will we take action?

We use homeownership as a means to provide strength, stability and self-reliance with the families who purchase a home with a 0% interest mortgage. Our board, staff, Tiger Team of year-round retired volunteers and the 8,000-10,000 annual volunteers all walk alongside homebuyers to assist with teaching long-term, homeownership success strategies and help by volunteering to build or rehabilitate their future home. It is simple, yet profound. Help a family achieve ownership, an American desire since the early homesteaders settled Indiana.

When the weight of the current culture pushes down on me like a wine press, I am encouraged that just as the tension of the press creates fine wine, we see the fruit of thousands of people who choose to love their neighbor through their volunteer action. Thousands of people from various ethnicities, socioeconomic and religious backgrounds come together, respectfully, to work together for a day or several times a year to help a family.

Love through action

There is power in setting aside differences and working alongside each other for the benefit of others. It is this power that helps me see that division can be overcome through love in action. Koinonia responded with prayer, nonviolent resistance, and a renewed commitment to live the Gospel. While our model was born out of Koinonia, today Habitat for Humanity is as an ecumenical Christian organization, and while pacifism isn’t at the core of our values, we see the gospel lived out through the actions of those who help those who aspire to a stronger and more stable life.

The division is real in our culture and so is the action of neighbor loving neighbor as played out in our mission every day. If we can continue to magnify that love which is displayed every day in our work, then once again, we can rise up to chip away at the face of hate with the action of love.