Habitat helps those who served
WRITTEN BY TENLEE LUND | PHOTOGRAPHED BY JOHN ERICKSON
Ray Lindberg, a Vietnam era Army veteran, smiles inside his new Habitat for Humanity home.
IMAGINE A WORLD WHERE EVERYONE HAS A DECENT PLACE TO CALL HOME. Putting that simple vision into practice, Habitat for Humanity has grown into “the third largest builder of homes in the world,” according to Kevin Pelkey, executive director of Lakes Area Habitat in Brainerd. “Every eleven minutes, on average, there’s a Habitat house being dedicated somewhere around the globe.”
The nonprofit Christian housing ministry, which builds houses in seventy-two countries throughout the world, is working toward a day when “everyone has a simple decent place to call home.” The local affiliate, which began in 1990, has completed 111 homes and served some 130 families in Crow Wing, Cass, and Hubbard counties and the city of Staples.
One of those homes, built in 2017, was for Ray Lindberg, a Vietnam-era Army veteran who was living in a mobile home that was so dilapidated it was demolished after he moved out. As Pelkey explains, Habitat had served veterans before but this project set the organization on a different tack.
“What changed last year was that we reached out to the veteran community in the building of a home for a veteran,” he says. “We contacted all of the local American Legions and VFWs and any other veterans’ services and really made it an intentional part of our project.”
The result—a newly forged partnership between the local Habitat and the 194th Armor Regiment of the Minnesota National Guard in Brainerd. Although their offices are literally across the street from each other, the connection wasn’t made until the Lindberg project.
“It worked out marvelously well,” says Pelkey. “Primarily with the input and involvement of the 194th Regiment, we built the house in thirty days. Normally it takes two-and-a-half to three months.
“They stepped up to the plate and they built it. It was veterans serving veterans. It just felt right,” he adds. “I think it was a win-win all around. Everybody in that project felt it was the right thing to do.”
And that feeling continues. Lindberg is in his two-bedroom home “with nice warm floors,” thanks to the in-floor heat. He has room for his grandchildren, who love the sliding hill in the backyard during the winter, and for a good-sized vegetable garden in the front.
“It turned out nice,” he says. “They really did a good job. A lot of friends, a lot of neighbors, and the 194th, they really helped out. It’s awesome.”
Lindberg also put some four hundred hours of his own time into his home project, the “sweat equity” required of Habitat homeowners. As Pelkey explains, Habitat applicants must meet three criteria—a demonstrated need, a qualifying low income, and a commitment to spend three hundred or more hours building their own home.
“At the end of the project we actually sell the house to the families using a mortgage instrument that has no interest on it. We are the lender, so we are actually a construction company and a mortgage company. Hence, we have to fundraise for every single project as a unique capital campaign.”
Families making mortgage payments provide part of the income stream needed to build additional houses and serve more families. “It’s a pretty phenomenal concept,” Pelkey says. “We call it the Fund for Humanity. When we’re finished with a home and we sell it to that family, we set the mortgage price to be no more than 22 percent of their income at the time they move in.”
One single mother was spending close to 75 percent of her income on housing. There was no money left to raise her five children. She is now in a Habitat home that is large enough to accommodate her family, with a mortgage set at 16 percent of her income.
Pelkey says, “She started crying. She said now she could fix her car, she could have money left over at the end of the month, ‘and I have this beautiful home.’ That’s what we call a hand up, not a hand out.”
This year Habitat has seven houses under construction. “It’s a pretty aggressive year,” Pelkey admits, saying a normal year is around five houses. “Year after year, it’s been shown that the need and the demand for our program have outstripped our ability to keep up with it. We could build in every community every year but that’s not our capacity.”
To meet its capacity, Habitat depends on volunteers. Construction skills aren’t necessary. As Pelkey explains, “What we need are people. We need hands and we need volunteers who are ready to listen to instructions.”
A special flagpole was erected and dedicated by the 194th Armor Regiment of the Minnesota National Guard at Ray Lindberg’s home in Brainerd.
This is where he commends the members of the 194th. “What we had was a core of volunteers who listened. They took instructions and they carried them out.”
They also built a special flagpole at the Lindberg house and, at the home’s dedication, they raised the American flag for the first time. The flag still flies there and, in turn, Lindberg now attends meetings at the Brainerd National Guard Armory. As Pelkey says, it was “win-win” all the way around.
The ReStore: Home Improvement Priced Right
The Habitat ReStore is “16,000 square feet of shopping bliss,” according to Kevin Pelkey, executive director of Lakes Area Habitat in Brainerd. “We say, ‘Come early, come often, and what you see today may be different tomorrow’ because, indeed, it is changing all the time.”
All of the merchandise is donated, offering multiple benefits to the community, including:
Providing a unique place to shop and quality merchandise at very affordable prices.
Diverting usable items from landfills.
Giving people a place to donate items that they don’t want to throw away.
Providing an income stream to Habitat for Humanity so they can build more houses and serve more local families.
It all started back in 2004 when local contractors wanted to donate salvageable items they recovered from construction jobs. Today, Pelkey explains, volunteers spend some four hundred hours per week picking up donated items, working at salvage sites, stocking and running the store.
“All of the product we have in the store is donated. A good portion of that comes from our volunteers who go out and pick up something that somebody has to offer,” Pelkey says. “Furniture, kitchen cabinets, appliances, things that have a good reusable life left in them, we’ll pick it up, clean it, process it, price it, and put it on the floor.
The public can come in and shop and the prices are affordable.”
For more information, visit the Habitat website, www.lakesareahabitat.org. If you have items to donate, contact Mary Johnson, ReStore director, at 218.454.7021 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Items may also be donated during store hours or by appointment. If you would like to volunteer, contact Karen Skarolid, 218.454.7020 or email@example.com.
Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays–9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Saturdays–9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Address: 1110 Wright Street, Brainerd