Story By MeLinda Schnyder - Photos By Scott Elpers
“Where are you going after work today?” Ann Fox asks. “If it is to a safe, affordable place to live and you want that to be possible for every hard-working person in our world, get involved with Habitat for Humanity. Shelter makes all the difference.”
As a licensed care home administrator, Fox became intrigued by the power of the living environment on quality of life. Five years ago she got the chance to bring that interest and a rare combination of non-profit and construction experience to the role of executive director for Wichita Habitat for Humanity (WHFH).
This October, the organization is celebrating 30 years as an affiliate of Habitat for Humanity, an international Christian ministry with the mission of building homes, communities and hope. By the end of December, WHFH will have built or repaired 30 houses this year with the help of 3,500 community volunteers under the direction of a group of about 15 core volunteers who teach and coordinate the unskilled volunteers. It takes about 2,000 volunteer hours to build one house and from 200 to 400 individuals may be involved per project just for the construction side of WHFH’s work.
VIP: Whom does WHFH serve?
AF: We serve families who meet three criteria: 1) they have a need for housing, 2) they have an ability to pay for a home but not enough to qualify for traditional financing and 3) they are willing to partner with us. Partner means that they will participate in education programs to ensure their success as future homeowners and they will perform sweat equity by participating in the actual construction and/or repair of their home and the homes of others in our program.
VIP: Habitat for Humanity is known for building houses but you offer other services, correct?
AF: About 335 families have been accepted into our program from inception to date. All these potential homebuyers first completed our homeownership and financial education classes that help them improve their budgeting skills, clean up their credit and understand the role that homeownership can play in establishing financial security for their families. Not all continue to buy a house through our program but all end up with greater financial stability. Many more families have explored owning a home through homeownership information meetings.
This year we launched A Brush With Kindness program to celebrate our 30th year and as a way we can serve more families and attempt to preserve aging home stock in our community. We will complete at least 18 repair projects before year-end. We have 56 applications pending and continue to receive these applications daily. We handle loan origination and mortgage servicing for the homeowners who purchased their homes through our program.
We offer the best ‘free’ construction skills class in Sedgwick County – volunteer and learn! Which is why our volunteer slots fill up fast and why we need donations so we can build more houses. Our Habitat ReStore has a very popular curbside pick-up service for acceptable donated items. ReStore is a discount home improvement store at 601 N. West Street that accepts gently used building materials, finishes and fixtures for resale to the public.
VIP: How is WHFH funded?
AF: We are funded through the generous donations of individuals and organizations. We raise the money for the costs of a new construction or repair project so that no money needs to be borrowed. Once a project is completed, the homebuyer (of new or rehabbed homes) or the homeowner (for home repair projects) pays it forward for a zero percent interest loan. Those repayments are reinvested in our program, usually over a 20 to 25 year mortgage serviced by Habitat for Humanity. We also generate cash through the Habitat ReStore.
VIP: How many houses do you build and repair each year?
AF: By Christmas this year, we’ll have built 12 houses and provided repair services for at least 18 families. The number of houses built is fully dependent on fundraising and family recruitment efforts. The most we’ve built in one year was 19 when three homes were built by Wichita Habitat in response to the Greensburg tornado. On September 14 of this year, Intrust Bank provided a lead sponsorship and their employees, along with Wells Fargo staff, raised the walls on the 212th new home constructed by Wichita Habitat over its 30 years.
VIP: How can readers support WHFH?
AF: Refer, advocate, pray, volunteer, shop, donate. The hard-working families we serve aren’t the kind who seek help and often don’t believe they could ever qualify as homeowners. Refer families you know who live in substandard housing, or who could benefit from affordable homeownership opportunities, home repairs or financial/home ownership education. Donate cash, home stock, building materials, licensed trades, buildable lots. Shop at ReStore. We are always looking for core volunteers who are willing to share a skill and teach it to others, and there are also opportunities on committees and at ReStore.