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Community First helps Habitat ‘Rock the Block’

Neighborhoods get boost from CFCU, members and volunteers

September 21, 2016


Upon retiring a decade ago, Fred and Bonnie Ebbesen looked for something meaningful to do with their extra time.
Since then, the Clayton residents have been part of the Senior Crew with the Greater Fox Cities Habitat for Humanity. And, as long-time Community First members, Fred and Bonnie are thrilled that CFCU has been a strong supporter of Habitat, including its Rock the Block neighborhood revitalization initiative.
Rewarding volunteerism
“It’s made our retirement a lot more fulfilling to be able to help others,” Bonnie said. “Personally for me I’ve been learning a lot of new skills. I never planned to do construction in retirement but it’s been very rewarding. Learning, being out and active, helping others – just seems to fit all the things I hold dear.”
In mid-September, the Ebbesen’s and other Habitat Senior Crew members helped guide more than 550 volunteers as the local Habitat chapter tackled its third Rock the Block initiative in Menasha.
“It’s a way for us to give back,” said Fred Ebbesen, who enjoys putting his handyman skills to good use in helping others. “We’ve had a pretty good life and feel blessed.”
With the support of many sponsors, including Community First, Habitat started its Rock the Block initiative in Appleton last year and, in May, targeted a Neenah neighborhood during the second Rock the Block effort.
Targeted neighborhood
The week-long Menasha Rock the Block involved 31 projects in the targeted neighborhood, including 20 owner-occupied homes, one rental and 10 community projects.
“Our primary focus is owner-occupied projects,” said Ryan Roth, Habitat’s community development manager. “We do exterior repairs up to $3,000. The homeowner pays for that through a zero interest deferred loan that they don’t have to pay back until they sell their home. We don’t charge labor due to the volunteers so it’s very affordable.”
As a nonprofit, Habitat also is able to purchase construction materials – such as windows, doors and siding – at favorable rates. If a project is difficult for the Senior Crew and volunteers, Habitat works with subcontractors who provide preferred pricing.
 “So, we can do an extensive amount of work,” Roth said. “We’ve replaced windows on an entire home for under $3,000.” One Menasha home received a new roof. “Her roof has been leaking for three years,” Roth said. “She has mold growing inside her upstairs and we’re going to come in and take care of that critical issue this week.”
Another Menasha project involved some repairs to a leaky roof and installation of handrails for a 91-year-old World War II veteran.
First-time Habitat volunteers Terri Reinke and Erin Ponschock of Community First’s business services department were thrilled to help paint trim around the front door, fix sagging porch railings and install six new basement windows around the foundation of an older home. “I learned to use a power drill and drilled in four screws in one of the basement windows,” said Reinke. “We had a great time.”
Homeowner appreciation
“It’s been pretty awesome – this means a lot to me,” said homeowner Rose Hall, a single mother who assisted Senior Crew and volunteers with the work on her home. “I was surprised by the number of people that showed up.”
A few blocks away, CFCU’s Pa Xiong and Kathy Fandrey pitched in to perform a variety of jobs, including painting, assisting with landscaping and tearing off a front porch.
“I would love to do this again,” said Pa. “It was nice to see the homeowners get involved and give them that extra hand. I got to experience using a nail gun and a power saw for the first time.”
Mary, who has lived in the home for 37 years was thrilled to get two new windows in her front porch, new front steps to replace rotting wooden steps and repairs to her back doors. “It looks so nice,” said Mary, who is also a Community First member. “Without Habitat and the volunteers, I couldn’t afford it otherwise.”
Nearby, CFCU’s Beth Davis was helping at the home of a disabled man, including caulking some drafty window frames. The next day, CFCU colleagues Marty Thurber and Tim Barthel helped paint the entire exterior of another home that had received new windows.
“I was aware that Habitat built new homes but I didn’t know they had other programs helping homeowners do this,” said homeowner Julie Luedtke, whose home has a new paint job and energy efficient windows. “It’s such a blessing. The volunteers literally saved me thousands of dollars.”
CFCU praised
Roth said Community First’s three-year funding pledge would also assist in construction of two new homes and other home repair projects in the same neighborhood over the next couple years.
He shared a letter received from a Jefferson Park neighbor about the initiative that Roth feels helps describe the impact from a resident’s perspective. It read:
Dear Habitat for Humanity,
Thank you for the lift that you gave to the Jefferson Park neighborhood. We are an older neighborhood, historic and unique. Some of our houses are tired and in need of ‘love’ and that’s what you gave during the second week of September. We sincerely hope you visit us again. Thanks again for your generous boost to our neighborhood. Pam and Gary
“This work is possible thanks in large part to the generous support from Community First Credit Union and their fine employees who have helped improve the neighborhoods during Rock the Block events,” Roth said.
Putting Community First
“I discovered that Community First really does put the community first, especially when it comes to volunteerism,” said Jodi Isom, Habitat’s volunteer services manager. “They help us build and rehab homes, they have given money and provided so many volunteers to help us that it’s just amazing.
“It is the American dream to own a home, and with Community First helping Habitat for Humanity, we’re achieving that goal here in the Fox Cities,” Jodi said. “All the work we do takes thousands and thousands of volunteers. We’re so grateful when we have partners like Community First.”
CFCU’s Pa Xiong hopes that other member-owners will be inspired to volunteer for future Rock the Block efforts planned for 2017 and beyond. “I felt so appreciated with the great people, attitude and environment,” she said. “I loved it when the kids (from a nearby school) came over and sang to us during our lunch break – that truly made my day.”
Back in May, more than a dozen CFCU volunteers helped in a week-long Rock the Block in Neenah.
“I absolutely feel like Rock the Block has instilled greater pride in our neighborhood,” said homeowner Lisa Dauntes a couple months later. “It was a way that we were able to meet new people and talk with neighbors we hadn't previously met. We definitely feel more comfortable in our home and less stress with homeownership. It has really has had a lasting positive effect.”