Habitat for Humanity has strong ties to Carlisle

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Have tools, will travel. Bob Englehart, far left, and Ralph Anderson, second from right, at one of their many builds. (Courtesy photo)

by Elise Lehotsky

Started by the Fuller family of Georgia, Habitat for Humanity (HFH)has been in operation since 1976. Since then, Habitat has helped to build or repair over 600,000 decent, affordable houses, serving more than three million people worldwide. Habitat for Humanity of Greater Lowell (HFHGL) started its work in 1991, and since then has built 31 homes, serving 131 people, not counting current projects. They also planned out ten critical repairs to veterans’ residences between 2012-2013. Two Carlisle residents currently sit on the board of HFHGL. Andy Barlow, who serves on the Strategic Planning/Board Development Committee started volunteering on builds in 1998. He joined the board in 2004 and in this time served as Vice President, and President of the board. It turns out that H4H gives back to its volunteers—according to the HFHGL website, Andy met his wife while volunteering. Jim Saltonstall, who retired after 40 years with the Middlesex School in 2008, is the current Vice President of the Board. His experience at Middlesex as teacher, coach, dorm head, and most recently business manager have heavily bolstered his ability to serve the HFHGL board.

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Habitat volunteer John Redding. (Photo by Jane Hamilton)

Several other Carlislians have volunteered through Habitat. I spoke with Carlisle resident John Redding to discuss Carlisle’s relationship with HFHGL. John is the First Religious Society (FRS) coordinator for Habitat, and says that the strongest leadership for volunteer involvement from Carlisle consists of current residents Bill Mersch, Ernie Huber and former Carlisle resident George Bishop. Bill Mersch is former President of the HFHGL and now serves as the Chair of the Habitat Interfaith Committee. Ernie and George (who now lives in Groton) have been involved as Habitat coordinators for FRS for years and they invited John to participate and keep the connection to Habitat strong.

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Never get between a woman and her power tools. Ann James at work on a build. (Courtesy photo)

If this is Tuesday, it must be Lowell

Ann James started building furniture when she retired, describing it as a very solitary hobby. She found that volunteering for builds provided a great community. She began volunteering with the Merrimack HFH five years ago, and recalled that her volunteering became as frequent as Tuesdays in Lowell, Thursdays in Lawrence, and Saturdays in Bedford. She mentioned that she, Bob Englehart and Ralph Anderson often carpooled to sites.

When the Mosquito caught up with Ralph he said that he has been involved with HFH since his retirement (over 15 years now), and has done work on Lowell, Fitchburg, Lawrence and Merrimack projects. Ralph has swung hammers, cleared trees, supervised sites and served on the Board of Directors for HFHGL. Something he likes about builds is that there are always people on site who know what they are doing, but volunteers learn a lot about how to build when they get involved.

According to Ralph, Lawrence Habitat has been working on the repurposing of an old convent. Nuns struck a deal with Habitat on the building and land, under the condition it would not be ripped down. Ralph described it as a four-story brick building that will be converted into ten, 1,500 sq-ft. condos. It’s been several years in the making, because it was necessary to gut the building, reinforce certain structural elements and add insulation.

Eight houses for eight families

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Carter Way in Bedford. Volunteers built eight homes for eight families. (Courtesy photo)

The most recently completed project Carlisle volunteers have been involved with is in Bedford. An old farmhouse came on the market and the owner wanted to donate it. Bedford was able to repurpose the land under 40B regulation. They broke ground on the cul-de-sac four years ago, and after 4,000 volunteers and 50,000 building hours, they ended up with eight houses for eight families. The estimated value of the housing project is approximately 2.5 million dollars, though the actual cost was a fraction of this thanks to volunteers and donations. The next local build project starting up is on Rock Street in Lowell. Construction has begun on four out of ten houses after breaking ground back in September.

John says “seeing people being committed for other people is really impressive,” and that there is “depth of talent coupled with social consciousness and commitment,” when you’re on a build. He describes those involved as good quality people from all walks of life, because there are so many aspects of a build that take place, ranging from hammering nails, planting gardens, selecting potential families and organizing volunteers.

FRS has had a long-standing relationship with HFHGL, and through its Social Action Committee has raised money through events such as the Holiday Greens Sale, has provided crews for local projects and has helped plan builds and repairs. A year ago, a group of volunteers from Carlisle went to Cambodia to work on 25 houses in a two-week period, and this past fall, a group went to Nepal for a build.

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The new ReStore in Billerica. (Courtesy photo)

Visiting the ReStore

Regardless of their financial background, all home owners perpetually need to do work on the family home. For that matter, you could probably stand to clean out your attic, your basement or your entire house. Most everyone does, but it is tough to get rid of the perfectly good things that clutter our homes. You have grown fond of these items, and if you just used them more often, they would be worth holding on to. The answer lies in bringing your well-loved and gently used items to Habitat for Humanity of Greater Lowell’s ReStore, the newest and largest ReStore in the region, located at 257 Boston Road in Billerica. A former Ford dealership, the store facilitates a space for donation and acquisition of everything from building materials, to furniture, to clothing and shoes and beyond.

The store is impressive. It appears to run as a machine, a warm, friendly machine. There are some really fun items in the store, including a fully functioning upright piano, matching blue beds shaped like race cars and endless numbers of fascinating lighting fixtures. The store is managed by Suzanne Marlowe, who not only does a great job running the store smoothly, but goes the extra mile by posting repurposing ideas at every corner, giving new life to older items and sharing handy ideas to try in your home. John Redding tells a story about ReStore’s opening day when his wife Joan asked him to take over a load of donated items. He ended up buying a side table they could use for family barbecues. In a way, it enabled him to give doubly by donating items and by purchasing something that could have been thrown away.

Brenda Gould, Executive Director of HFHGL gave the Mosquito a tour of the store. Brenda stressed how the store is constantly changing to accommodate fluctuating donations. We walked through the Mill City room, painted to represent the interior of local mills and boasting a beautiful mural of the Lowell Mills, done by students. The facility also holds their “EBay” room, where they auction off high-priced items to help fund building more houses.

In the front of the building, the former auto show room has been transformed into a bright function room with a large round bar (donated by Borders Books). Anyone in the community can rent it for $100-125, for functions ranging from Chamber of Commerce meetings to an upcoming interior-decorating workshop. In the back of the building, trucks make deliveries to a team of volunteers who clean off and price donated items to get them ready for the floor. Brenda mentioned they are in particular need of appliances of all kinds, so if you are looking to upgrade or move, think about contacting the store.

Community involvement

Many different parts of the community are involved with ReStore. Several local schools such as Shawsheen Tech, Greater Lowell Tech and the Merrimack School volunteer at the store and at local builds, and Westford Academy has a program where high school students intern during April and May to get hands-on experience with retail and construction. ReStore also works with the Billerica House of Corrections to further rehabilitation of inmates by allowing those charged with non-violent crimes to give back to the community through volunteering at ReStore.

The goal of the store is to be able to fund at least one house per year, and to help with the Veterans Critical Care Program. When Brenda first started on the project last February, she was fairly new to HFHGL and excited to work on a project that would help local veterans realize simple, affordable repairs to their homes. She contacted Angela Smith, Outreach Coordinator of the Carlisle Council on Aging, and others in the community to help. The project got off to a slow start, due to lack of organization. They have subsequently hired Bob Lafleur part-time to oversee construction, and there are now 35 families being served. Thanks to Angela, they have identified veterans here in Carlisle, who can benefit from this service, and work on their homes will begin in April.

Both Brenda and John stress that the programs are a “hand up” not a “hand out.” Families who receive help are expected to attend financial planning classes, pay off an interest-free mortgage and put in “sweat equity” working on the project alongside volunteers. Because of donations and help from the community, families pay only about 15-20% of the actual cost of building. In the case of veterans, they are expected to pay a significantly reduced price for repairs. For example, in Dracut, roof repairs were estimated at $10,000, but the family was asked to pay only $2,000 with a no-interest payment plan. The best part is, once the job is paid off, these payments end up going to aid the next family in need.

There are several ways to participate and donate to Habitat of Greater Lowell, including the committees for Project Development, Building, Family Section, Family Support, Resource Development, Interfaith and the Youth United Committee. For more information on volunteer opportunities, email info@lowellhabitat.org or visit www.lowellhabitat.org. ∆