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Giving Thanks/Business Leader Build marks 20 years of Habitat success

CFCU’s Tierney, Fulkerson spearhead construction of affordable homes to celebrate anniversary

Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Eight-year-old Valeria Diaz enjoyed both the spotlight and her new home.

Standing by the front door and surrounded by people, the daughter of Manuel Diaz and Manuela Enriquez proudly spoke for her parents while reading from a program and thanking the visitors for “sharing in our happiness. We really appreciate your support to make our lifelong dream come true to buy our first house. Thanks to God, Habitat for Humanity and all of the volunteers who helped us get to this point.”

The Nov. 25 dedication ceremony at the new Grand Chute home was made possible by 20 Fox Cities’ business leaders, including CFCU President/CEO Cathie Tierney and two CFCU board members – Chairman Jay Fulkerson, CEO of Health Payment Systems, and FVTC President Dr. Susan May, past chairman.

Habitat’s Business Leader Build was organized to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Greater Fox Cities Area Habitat for Humanity chapter, which has built more than 164 affordable homes in the region over the past two decades.

Executives buy in

Each of the 20 business leaders involved contributed $7,500 of their own funds and also volunteered to help build two modest homes, one on N. Casaloma Drive for the Diaz Enriquez family and the other on First Street in Menasha for Vicky Vera-Estrada and her three children.

At the dedication, Tierney said Habitat’s mission helps build strong families and strong communities. “It’s a wonderful program that enables people to really find the joy and the benefit of homeownership,” she said.

Tierney related how earlier this year she called the late Joyce Bytof, president of Coldwell Banker The Real Estate Group, to solicit her participation. “She didn’t hesitate one second when I asked her if she’d be a part of this project,” she said. “Those of us who knew her know how important homeownership was to her – it was her life and her business. We certainly want to salute her and her spirit tonight.”

“These houses are just an inspiration to all of us,” said Fulkerson, who also serves on the Habitat board of directors. He and fellow Habitat board member Dean Gruner of ThedaCare, approached Cathie Tierney and Kathi Seifert (of The Katapult Group) to spearhead the initiative and corral other local executives to participate.

“This is an individual gift, not a company gift,” Fulkerson said. With 20 executives quickly committed, they had the $150,000 needed to build two homes this year. Work began in August at each site.

Not free housing

Since joining the Habitat board four years ago, Fulkerson said he was surprised to learn about the depth of the financial need. “We need to do a better job of communicating that this isn’t free,” he said. “These people are putting in lots of sweat equity and then they’ve got a 30-year mortgage they’re paying. It’s an interest free mortgage but it’s still pretty significant.”

As Habitat owners make mortgage payments monthly, the funds are pooled to make loans for other Habitat house projects.

“I really like the way the family is involved,” Fulkerson said. Besides the sweat equity requirements to work alongside construction crew leaders and volunteers, Habitat also provides a lot of education for the families so they understand the financial part of it and how to take care of a home. “It’s a really cool way they wrap their arms around these families to prepare them for home ownership,” Fulkerson added. “It’s good for the community, too. You look at this house we’re building in Menasha and it’s making the neighborhood better.”

Habitat is building 14 new homes this year providing simple, decent and affordable homes for hard-working families. Over the past two years, Habitat has also completed six Neighborhood Revitalization projects performing weatherization and critical home repairs.

Family housing security

After years of living in a small, two-bedroom apartment, the Diaz Enriquez family, which includes Valeria and her two brothers, will move into their new home Thanksgiving weekend. Manuel said he and his wife spent a long time thinking about applying for a Habitat home because he “didn’t think such a great offer could be real without a catch.

“We came to Habitat because of the opportunity it could provide for our family. This opportunity will change our future and provide a stable and secure future for our children,” he said. “It will give them a better life and a more solid foundation for them to grow up safe and happy.”

Work is continuing on the second Business Leader Build home that will be dedicated in December.

“We are so fortunate that the Fox Cities are such a giving and caring community,” said John Weyenberg, Habitat’s executive director, who approached Fulkerson and Gruner with the Business Leader Build concept to commemorate 20 years of the local Habitat affiliate.

“We think this worked really well and our plan is to do it again (with one home) in 2014,” said Weyenberg.

Jodi Isom, Habitat’s volunteer services manager, said it usually takes about 225 volunteers to build one Habitat house. “We had lots of groups come out from the business leaders’ organizations, like Community First and Miller Electric,” she said. “We always need more volunteers. It takes thousands of volunteers to do what we do at Habitat. There’s a place for everybody who wants to volunteer at Habitat if they’re interested and passionate about our mission.” To volunteer, call Jodi at 967-8882.

Full-house rehabs starting

For many years, Habitat for Humanity was only focused on newly constructed homes. Then, in 2012, it successfully launched its Neighborhood Revitalization initiative to do home repair work for existing homeowners in need of assistance. In January 2014, it will launch into full-house rehabilitation projects, said Weyenberg.

“It’s kind of a new element to our work,” he said. “Given the foreclosure market that we’ve had and the housing market the way it’s been for the last several years, there’s a lot of decent housing in the community that just needs some repair and upkeep. Municipalities have really been pushing us in that direction and we’re finally in a position where we can take it on as an initiative.”

Twenty Fox Cities’ business leaders each contributed $7,500 and also provided volunteer labor to build two homes in 2013 to mark the 20th anniversary of the Greater Fox Cities Area Habitat for Humanity. They are:

Robert Abernathy, Kimberly-Clark Corp.; Jim Bere, Alta Resources; John Bergstrom, Bergstrom Corp.; John Bykowski, Secura Insurance; Joyce Bytof, Coldwell Banker, The Real Estate Group; Doug Dieterich, Galloway Co.; Jay Fulkerson, Health Payment Systems; Dean Gruner, ThedaCare; Brad Hewitt, Thrivent Financial; Jim Kotek, Menasha Corp.; Susan May, FVTC; Dave Ogilvie, Global Power Components; Bob Pedersen, Goodwill Industries; Mark Richards, Appvion; Kathi Seifert, The Katapult Group; Rollie Stephenson, Faith Technologies; Cathie Tierney, Community First CU; Dave Voss, Miron Construction; and, Mike Weller, Miller Electric.

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