By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN Pam Johnson of Winsted has a hammer and she knows how to use it.
This spring she will prove it when construction begins on the 21st home built in McLeod County by Crow River Habitat for Humanity (CRHFH) since the organization was founded in 1994.
Johnson began working for CRHFH Jan. 17 as its volunteer coordinator. Her job is one of only three paid positions within the organization, which has offices in the Hope Center in Hutchinson.
In addition to occasionally helping out at the building site, Johnson’s main responsibility will be finding volunteers for all of the different jobs required for this year’s CRHFH building project, and to maintain a volunteer data base for future reference.
“I know there are a lot of people who would want to help in different ways, we just need to get the word out, so they are aware that CRHFH covers all of McLeod County,” Johnson said. “In most places within the county, it’s easy to lose sight of the incredible need, but 38 percent of the McLeod County population lives below the median income level.”
This year’s CRHFH building site is located on Hilltop Drive in Hutchinson. The family to live in the 21st CRHFH home, is Rebecca Wolff, a native of Annandale, and her five children.
CRHFH renovates or builds at least one home a year, and is trying to expand that number. It’s also looking for affordable land in other McLeod County communities to build future habitat homes.
To become a CRHFH homeowner, an application must be filled out and submitted to a special selection committee within CRHFH which screens all potential families.
“Applications must be received for a CRHFH home well in advance,” Johnson said. “Some people have already applied for next year.”
Although it’s a common belief that the homes built by CRHFH are given away, according to Johnson, that is not the case.
The homeowners who take possession of a home built by CRHFH are “given a hand up, not a hand out,” Johnson said.
The new homeowners partner with CRHFH, investing 400 hours of sweat equity into building their home, make a downpayment of approximately $1,000, and make a monthly payment on their property.
The homes are sold at cost, on a 20-year, no-profit, zero percent interest mortgage held by CRHFH. Loan payments include principal, taxes, insurance, and maintenance fees. The principal payments are deposited in a fund to help build future homes, according to Johnson.
Volunteers are needed desperately for this year’s CRHFH build.
Besides helping with construction, volunteers can help by raising funds, developing relationships with local congregations, providing meals for the builders, folding newsletters, and writing thank you notes, to name a few projects.
Volunteers can come as individuals or as a group. There is a core group of volunteers who particpate most Tuesdays, and church groups that come on Saturdays.
There are two upcoming summer group events that Johnson is looking forward to during this year’s home build for CRHFH.
One is the Habitat 500 Bike Ride, celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, scheduled for Sunday, July 15 through Saturday, July 21, starting in St. Louis Park.
Wednesday, July 18, the bikers will arrive in Hutchinson to take part in building the CRHFH home on Hilltop Drive.
Habitat 500 is a pledged 500-mile bicycle ride benefiting Habitat for Humanity International. To register, call (320) 587-8868 or visit www.habitat500.org.
The other event Johnson is working on is a women’s build week, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, Aug. 21, 23, and 25.
“It’s going to be really fun. I am getting local sponsorships to put together gift bags for anyone who volunteers,” Johnson said.
Construction workers do not have to be experienced to help build a home. There are site supervisors at the build each day who will train the volunteers.
The building schedule is every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, usually beginning at 8:30 a.m. until 3 or 4 p.m.
For now, Johnson’s biggest priority is finding enough site supervisors for this year’s build.
Construction experience is a requirement for the site supervisors, who are needed to not only oversee the project, but teach construction skills to others on the job. Johnson has been contacting builders in McLeod County asking for help.
She is hoping to get enough volunteers with construction experience to share the responsibility of site supervisor so no one person is overwhelmed by the project hours.
For anyone interested in becoming a CRHFH site supervisor, a special informational breakfast is planned Wednesday, March 14 from 8 to 9 a.m. at the Vineyard United Methodist Church, 1395 South Grade Road SW, Hutchinson.
To attend, RSVP by Friday, March 9 to Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (320) 587-8868.
Although Johnson has only been working for CRHFH a few weeks, she is excited about its future, hoping to increase the number of volunteers and eventually the number of homes built each year.
One program she is considering is a youth-build made up of different church and school youth groups.
She would even love to get her daughters, Jaime, 15, a Holy Trinity freshman; and Nicole, 13, a Holy Trinity seventh grader, involved. She would like them to give construction a try, but she is leaving the decision up to them.
Johnson works at CRHFH 20 hours a week, working Monday to Thursday, usually from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
She continues to be a team leader for Mary Kay Cosmetics, a position she has held for 11 years, selling the popular cosmetics from her home in Winsted.