Just as members of the Kyrene Corridor Rotary Club are getting back to a normal, post-holiday pace, their plate will start to fill up once again. Club members say that on Jan. 21 they’ll undertake a project with Habitat for Humanity that involves building a house for a needy family at no cost to the intended occupants.
At the group’s Nov. 21 meeting, Lee Riddell took members through his experience working with Habitat throughout the past 12 years.
“The Habitat model for affordable housing is probably the best thing that I’ve seen or read about,” Riddell said.
“Mostly, I’m on the construction side, which is what I kind of have an affinity for.”
Habitat for Humanity is a non-profit, Christian housing ministry that helps to reduce homelessness by building houses with a work force made up of volunteers and the families in need, Riddell said.
Riddell has worked with Habitat in Flagstaff and Phoenix, as well as in Louisiana after the 2005 devastation resulting from Hurricane Katrina.
“The thing that brings Habitat along is basically the volunteer labor, interest-free mortgages, which also implies home ownership, owner participation and stringent qualifications…that result in some assurance that the person is buying the house,” he said.
Riddell emphasized the importance of establishing a consistent volunteer force, especially after the organization’s lost presence in Flagstaff over the past three years.
“The difficulty was the prior administration had launched a resale store that provided a dribble of income, and then built two houses about four years ago and ended up building them without establishing a volunteer force,” he said.
“So, they paid for the construction of these houses, and ended up indebting Habitat for about $200,000.”
In June and May, there was a change in Habitat administration that has a better sense of trying to do what’s right for the community, he said.
“Over that period of four or five months, we established cash flow and a consistent volunteer force,” Riddell said. “It speaks so well to the nature of the Flagstaff community in terms of volunteer efforts. It satisfied the need for hands-on volunteers.”
Since then, Riddell has worked on a number of houses in Flagstaff.
“When you’re building a house, the volunteers do it, not the contractors,” Riddell said.
He added that some professional contractors offer their service, however he prefers volunteers, observing that contractors sometimes come out for one weekend and then end up dropping the project as more business comes their way; they’re gone and more volunteers are needed.
“I would much rather work with people who have never picked up a hammer,” Riddell said. “It sounds contradictory, but it’s really not when you take into consideration the power of the brand, and the great experience (the volunteers) gain.”
In Louisiana, Riddell said he spent four summers in the Ninth Ward of St. Bernard Parish.
“(The power of Katrina) was unbelievable,” he said. “All of the houses were picked up and shuffled around like you do with a biscuit of shredded wheat.”
Riddell added that during his time there, interesting contributions were made for the Habitat effort. Rock musician Bon Jovi donated money for 26 houses; funds contributed by Oprah Winfrey paid for those houses to be furnished.
Though the donations were greatly appreciated, Riddell admitted it caused disappointment among some of the project’s beneficiaries who received homes without the added celebrity contributions.
“(Habitat) had to explain that away for a long time,” he said.
Now that their turn at a similar project is about ready to start, Kyrene Corridor Rotarians say they’re looking forward to it.
The club meets at noon Mondays at Kobe Steak House in south Tempe. Visitors are welcome.