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Lakes Area Habitat for Humanity says it’s desperate for volunteers

The nonprofit housing organization serving Cass, Crow Wing, Hubbard and Wadena counties needs volunteers, especially to build homes. Volunteer levels fell during the coronavirus pandemic.

Lakes Area Habitat for Humanity
Volunteer Betty Sieckert holds a paint roller while Mark Almen, construction manager for Lakes Area Habitat for Humanity holds a pan before painting Thursday, Jan 5, 2023, at the new home under construction at 1813 Pine Street in Brainerd. The nonprofit is appealing for more volunteers to help with this home and future builds.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
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BRAINERD — It’s been said it takes a village to raise a child. Sometimes it takes a community to build a home.

Lakes Area Habitat for Humanity is in dire need of volunteers, especially for construction, the organization reported. The housing nonprofit builds homes for those in need in Cass, Crow Wing, Hubbard and Wadena counties.

“We do get fewer volunteers in wintertime, obviously. But after COVID, a lot of our volunteers didn't come back to start volunteering again,” said Heidi Gould, volunteer coordinator for Lakes Area Habitat for Humanity.

Lakes Area Habitat for Humanity is building two homes in the Brainerd lakes area, including a three-bedroom home on an empty lot on Pine Street for a woman and her two children. Construction started in July and was expected to finish by December.

“Normally, our typical builds take anywhere from four to five months. This one's going a little slower because we've had fewer volunteers each day,” Gould said Thursday, Jan. 5. “Some days we've had just one volunteer out there helping our construction manager.”

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During more than a quarter of a century, Lakes Area Habitat for Humanity volunteers have built more than 100 homes in the counties and areas served by the nonprofit, according to officials. But following the pandemic, the nonprofit has struggled to find volunteers.

“They either found other volunteer options they didn't want to leave during COVID,” Gould said, “or they just decided, ‘Hey, I like not volunteering now … so we're just not going to come back at this point.’”

Lakes Area Habitat for Humanity
An accessible home with attached garage is under construction at 1813 Pine Street in Brainerd Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

The organization sent out a news release Thursday stating the nonprofit is in desperate need of volunteers.

“COVID-19 devastated their volunteer population — mostly older, retired folks — and so rebuilding that group has been challenging,” stated Lori Scharenbroich, a marketing professional who sent the public service announcement.

The Brainerd-based Lakes Area Habitat for Humanity strives to ensure “everyone, everywhere has at least a simple, decent place to call home,” according to its mission statement, but it needs volunteers to accomplish that.

“A lot of our volunteers are on the older end of retired age — so, you know, 70s, 80s — and some of them are getting to the point where they can't do construction volunteering anymore,” Gould said.

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Gould said it typically takes around 1,300 volunteer hours to build a home from start to finish.

“Volunteers are the ones who do all the building,” Gould said. “We have one full-time and one part-time construction person. They obviously work alongside the volunteers but that's only two hands unless we have volunteers, so the more volunteers we get the faster a build goes.”

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Construction volunteers perform various skilled and unskilled tasks, including framing, vinyl siding, installing Sheetrock, painting, flooring and installing trim.

“We work alongside each partner family for each home, so you will see and know the lives you are changing firsthand,” Scharenbroich stated.

Lori Hannahs had to contribute a minimum of 300 hours of her own time to the construction of her 1,000-square-foot Lakes Area Habitat for Humanity home in Pequot Lakes. The 52-year-old spent her first night in her new home last month. All of those receiving homes are expected to contribute to the effort.

“Habitat’s model is that it's all volunteer-built except for your construction supervisor who kind of guides the volunteers, shows them what they need to know and make sure that everything is built right,” Gould said.

Beyond construction, volunteers are needed in other areas as well. ReStore is the nonprofit’s retail outlet in Brainerd that recycles new and like-new building and home improvement materials, which are sold at a discount. The outlet prevents quality items from crowding the landfill, and reuses, repurposes and recycles appliances and furniture, too.

“Regular, weekly volunteers are needed to provide support to the ReStore staff, donors and customers,” Scharenbroich stated. “Whether you’re a people person or you love seeing all the interesting things that come in, you’ll love the ReStore.”

Pickup volunteers take trucks and trailers throughout the Brainerd lakes area, collecting new and gently used home accessories, appliances and building supplies. Pickup volunteers go out daily (on a planned route, scheduled ahead of time) and deliver donations to a warehouse.

Salvage volunteers go to a site and save reusable, quality materials from demolition. All these items are stocked at the ReStore, which is open to the public and sells merchandise discounted up to 75% off standard retail prices.

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“All net proceeds support our mission to build affordable homes for working families,” Scharenbroich stated. “Plenty of volunteers like to do both! We need pickup volunteers every weekday and salvage volunteers roughly once per week.”

Local nonprofits count on volunteers to provide countless hours of work that would otherwise be performed with paid labor, according to officials.

“If you want a rewarding volunteer experience, many of our volunteers say that they receive more by volunteering than they feel they give,” Scharenbroich stated.

How to volunteerFor more information or to volunteer with Lakes Area Habitat for Humanity, call Heidi Gould, volunteer coordinator, at 218-454-7021, email her at heidi.gould@lakesareahabitat.org or visit lakesareahabitat.org/volunteer .

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddispatch.com . Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchFL .

I cover the community of Wadena, Minn., and write articles for the Wadena Pioneer Journal weekly newspaper, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.
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