Six ImproveIt team members put their construction skills to use to give back on a new Habitat for Humanity Mid-Ohio home.
Home improvement is an industry that thrives on potential. Homeowners see an opportunity to make their home become something better, and remodelers help bring out its full potential. As a business, it’s easy for ImproveIt to sell remodeling services to customers that need our team’s design and construction capabilities. But as human beings, we know the potential for our skills to create beautiful homes can make an impact that goes beyond selling a service.
Back in May 2020, while much of the country was under quarantine, our Columbus-based warehouse staff gathered our unused, surplus materials for a large Habitat for Humanity donation. Since then, we had an itch to continue giving back. We knew we had the potential to do more for such a great organization.
With that in mind, the ImproveIt corporate marketing team gathered on October 2 for the company’s first Habitat for Humanity Volunteer Day. Armed with hard hats, safety glasses, toolbelts, and a lot of gumption, the team arrived at the partially framed build site in Columbus’s Linden neighborhood, ready to work.
A Hand Up, Not a Hand Out
The single-family home being built on Myrtle Ave. is just the latest in a “Habitat Row” of homes on the block in the last three years. A full-width front porch will give the future owners a connection to their neighbors, while three bedrooms will give family members a place to call their own. Habitat for Humanity Mid-Ohio has been an affiliate of the larger Habitat organization for more than 30 years, serving more than 600 families in that time.
“I’m truly blessed to be part of the ‘nook’ of change in this neighborhood,” says House Lead Christina Simms. She gestures to a half-dozen additional Habitat build sites within walking distance of the Myrtle Ave. home, many of which she’s touched as Construction Project Lead. “We’re working in areas where families are facing overcrowding in their homes, unsafe living conditions for a variety of reasons, and challenges with their bills. Many families we encounter have found themselves having to move every year to look for a place that is somehow more affordable while fitting their needs. They don’t decorate their homes or ever really settle in because they know sometime next year, they’re just going to move again.”
Simms thrives on the notion of giving these families the stability and safe harbor they need in a way that is “a hand up in life – not a hand out,” she says. “I think there’s a misconception that Habitat builds houses and gives them away, but that’s not the case at all. It’s a breath of fresh air for these families in a way that completely involves them in the process.”
Families served by Habitat must apply to gain housing through the program, and are selected based on their housing need, their ability to pay (yes, Habitat families do have a mortgage), and their willingness to participate in their homeownership journey. Selected families complete a variety of classes touching on everything from home maintenance to financial management. They must also contribute several hundred “sweat equity” hours by contributing to the construction of their own home and other Habitat homes.
“I love that the family gets to contribute to building their own home,” says ImproveIt Digital Marketing Manager Amanda Mills. “Not only does it teach them more about the property itself, but it allows them the ability to learn some handy skills to fix it in the future and have pride in their accomplishment. How many people can say that they, with their two hands, built their own house?”
Building and team building
The major project on the docket for ImproveIt’s build day was cutting and installing trusses to support the home’s second story. The team also built a landing for the U-shaped staircase from the home’s basement to the first floor.
“Overall, the work we did was challenging,” says Marketing Specialist Julie Miller. “I doubt I’ll ever install trusses or build a stair landing again, but I really enjoyed learning how these projects come together when building a house, and seeing the difference we made.”
Content Specialist Lauren Hunter agrees. “I’ve spent most of my career writing about construction, remodeling, and building products, and I consider myself pretty handy around the house,” she says. “But being able to say I actually helped build a home is so gratifying, especially knowing what that will mean to the family that will live here. I know they won’t take their home for granted, and I won’t take for granted my ability to help them achieve that.”
Women in construction
By happenstance, the entire jobsite was staffed by women on this particular build day. Led by Simms, the ImproveIt team was joined by two additional long-time Habitat volunteers. Together, Simms and the more experienced volunteers patiently shared their knowledge and enthusiasm, inspiring a real environment of teamwork and learning so everyone could contribute in a meaningful way.
“I was so impressed with how well-run Habitat for Humanity is as an organization,” says Traci Snyder, director of marketing for ImproveIt. “How they educate homeowners and their volunteers – wow! It felt incredible to give back, and sharing this great experience with our team made it even more special. It really showed me how important community is to our happiness. That sense of belonging is everything.”
Courtney Davis agrees. “Being able to get out from behind the desk and work with our hands in a different capacity as a team was great,” says ImproveIt’s Senior Marketing Manager. “More than that, I was very aware while we were working that we were part of something bigger.”
Though Covid-19 guidelines currently limit the number of volunteers that can be on a jobsite, the ImproveIt team already knows they will encourage the larger company staff to participate in future Habitat volunteer opportunities. Many members of the marketing team are interested in volunteering on their own as well.
“Participating in this build was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life,” says Lisa Bradley, Improveit’s Business Systems Support Specialist. “From start to finish, it made my spirit feel good. I’ll ride by that house in the future knowing my hands and energy went into making that home for someone that needed it. I’ll most certainly do it again and again.”