A Little Ray of Sunshine

Monday, April 25, 2005

Something new

Back before our move, I volunteered with the local Habitat for Humanity, nothing fancy, writing receipts and thank-you notes for donors. A couple hours, twice a week. The secretary had a little daughter, not yet one year-old. Beau thought she was great fun. I thought it was great preparation to be a big brother.
Nearly two months ago I decided we were as settled in as we were going to get, and called the local Habitat here. They are in transition-phase, moving offices, and dealing with the fact that all their board of directors works full-time at something else. Very busy folks. It took them two phone messages and nearly a month to get back to me. When they did, and I asked if I could volunteer in their office, they asked me if I'd like to be their Volunteer Coordinator. Well, obviously, if it takes a month to get back to a potential volunteer, the need is there. The more I get to know these folks the more impressed I am with what they've been able to accomplish with all their time limitations.
My husband and I talked it over, and decided that this would be okay for me to do. I can do it mostly from home, run the volunteer database from my computer, probably on a jump drive so it's transportable. (Laptop is bigger than budget. Maybe in a few years. A laptop would be better, though, could take it to work sites to streamline new volunteer . . . am getting ahead of myself.)
I like Habitat as a ministry because I can see the need it fills and the results are very visible in people's lives. We have lived a long time paying more in rent than we are supposed to be paying according to the ratios that mortgage issuers have. It is impossible to be low-income and not pay more. Well, maybe if you fit all your family into a studio apartment you can do it. Yet, though a mortgage, traditional, would cost less per month than rent, you can't qualify for enough to actually buy a house. Oh, and because they only allow 1/3 of your income TOTAL to go towards your debts, if you happen to have student loans or medical bills, or are a one-income family, you are in real trouble.
We calculated it out, once, where we lived before. It would have cost more for me to work, with two children under two, than I could have possibly made. But we would have been allowed to borrow nearly twice as much, with less available income. I asked the mortgage officer about that, and he shrugged and said basically "That's the way it is, I don't make the decisions, I have a formula to follow from my headquarters." It's enough to make one buy into conspiracy theories!
Back to Habitat: There are good landlords, there are terrible landlords. Most of those we have had have been decent sorts, a little slower than you'd expect someone with an investment in a property to fix some maintenance issues. But to be able to have a place big enough for a family without having more rent than income, never mind other expenses, one has to compromise. Drafts, leaks, cracks, peeling paint, broken windows fixed by putty or nailing a board, and so on, in exchange for enough space to live at a price one can barely pay.
So I understand what Habitat's all about on a more personal level. I've never had it as bad as a lot of the families Habitat helps has, of course, but I understand it well enough to be passionate about what we're doing. So I'm the new local Volunteer Coordinator. Now, no one's had this job before, exactly, it's kind of been done in a mishmash. So the next step is to figure out what's being done by others, what of that I ought to do (no stepping on toes), and what else I ought to do. I'm looking forward to it.
If you don't know what Habitat for Humanity is, you can go check out www.habitat.org


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