Our blog now lives on our website!

For the most recent stories and news from Habitat Philly, visit the blog on our website.

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Recap: Our First Global Village Trip

What better way to start the new year than by doing something new?   We’ve been funding Habitat home construction in Nicaragua for years through our global tithe donation, but this January we took our commitment to the next level by sending a team of our volunteers and staff to the town of San Cayetano to build houses with Habitat for Humanity Nicaragua through the Global Village program.  The team spent nine days building the Vallecillo Family’s future home—and got back to Philadelphia with big smiles, sore muscles, and great stories from the service trip of a lifetime.

nicaragua homeowner family

Our Associate Executive Director Corinne with Hellen and her daugters Maria and Meyling.

Here’s the Vallecillo Family’s current living situation:  Melkin, his wife Hellen, and their daughters Maria (four years old) and Meyling (two years old) live in an overcrowded house with a dirt floor and decaying wood walls.  Just from living there, Hellen’s severe asthma has become so bad that she can’t work.  Melkin, meanwhile works 24-hours shifts every other day at a local water plant in order to support the family on his $145 monthly income.

The Vallecillo Family is not alone:  45% of houses in Nicaragua have a dirt floor, and one in five children in the country don’t live to see their fifth birthday.  A durable, healthy home is critical to improving those statistics—and Habitat for Humanity provides the resources and labor that make it a reality.

Our Global Village team was honored to be part of the project.  For a solid week, we worked side-by-side with Melkin and local Habitat staff, shoveling mortar, mixing concrete and raising the walls of the Vallecillo Family’s house one cinder block at a time.  The house is small and simple compared to what we’re used to—two rooms, a corrugated metal roof and just 360 square feet.  But it’s big enough for the family, it’s an environment that won’t exacerbate Hellen’s asthma, and it’s a safe, healthy place for Maria and Meyling to grow up.

Dedication everyone group Nicaragua Global Village

Our team with the Vallecillo Family in front of their almost-finished home!

Poverty housing is a global problem—and whether it’s in Philadelphia or Nicaragua, it has implications for us all.  And at the same time, we know that Habitat’s affordable housing model is versatile and effective at improving lives in measurable ways.  It takes a community to raise a Habitat house, and that’s why we’re building both in our city and abroad—because everyone needs a safe, affordable place to call home.

 

Scroll down for more photos from our Global Village trip to Nicaragua!

USE regular houses

Not an unusual sight in Nicaragua:  cramped homes made of scrap wood and tarps.

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Our team mixing mortar for the cinder-block walls.

Melkin thumbs up

Melkin gives a thumbs-up through the windows of his future home.  He worked with us the entire week.

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Long days of mixing and shoveling didn’t dampen our enthusiasm!

finished house--not the vallecillas but another Habitat Nic house

Here’s what the Vallecillo Family’s house will look like once local Habitat staff install the metal roof, windows and doors.

 

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Why do YOU serve?

AmeriCorps—sure, you’ve heard the name, but what is it, exactly?  Officially, it’s a federal program that connects volunteers with full-time community service at non-profits across the country.  Ask us here at Habitat and we’ll tell you that our AmeriCorps members are an enthusiastic team who devote a year to serving others, doing everything from building and repairing homes to helping our programs operate more efficiently.  The truth, though, is that no matter how you define it, being an AmeriCorps member is a huge commitment.  So we asked them a simple question:  why do they serve?

Nick Pesta is a construction crew leader on our homebuilding team.  “I graduated college Nick Pesta 2a year and a half ago and started working at an engineering job,” he says.  “But I just wasn’t satisfied with what I was doing.  I had volunteered a lot in college and felt more drawn to that kind of work, so I decided to make a change in my life and do a year of service with AmeriCorps.  I wanted to see how that fits with me, and decide where I want to lead my life after this.”

Hannah Baker

Hannah Baker is also a construction crew leader. Like Nick, she teaches Habitat’s volunteers and partner families how to frame walls, install windows, paint walls and more. “I just graduated from Central [High School] in June,” she says.  “I picked AmeriCorps because after I got accepted to school I decided that I needed to grow up a little.  I needed to learn more about life, and not just live inside my own bubble.  So I thought that with my first year of adulthood, I would try giving back, and not just taking.  And I think it’s going pretty well!”

Brian Lafferty, our volunteer coordinator, helps to recruit and build relationships with the 3,000 volunteers that join us every year.  “I graduated St. Joseph’s University in May,” heBrian Lafferty says.  “I had volunteered a lot on week-long service trips with Habitat during college, and that’s where I heard about the AmeriCorps program.   I’m enjoying every day here.  It’s definitely a humbling experience.  And I think it’s definitely worth it—it’s a great way to grow and learn.”

Different stories, but one common thread:  AmeriCorps is about making a true difference in the lives of others.  It’s about strengthening your skills, your talents, and your commitment to the community.  It’s dynamic, demanding, and rewarding–and it’s an amazing way to contribute to Habitat’s mission.  Learn about how you can apply for our yearly AmeriCorps positions by visiting our website, and meet our entire AmeriCorps team on our YouTube page!

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Give your old car a new life building homes.

Sure, Habitat is a great place to learn how to use power tools.  But there are so many other effective ways you can be a part of the Habitat solution, too–and no matter how you decide to get involved, you have a positive impact for our work and for our partner families.  Case in point:  did you know that Habitat for Humanity accepts vehicle donations through the Cars for Homes program?  We’ll take your used car, truck, or trailer and use it to build and repair homes for Philadelphia families in need.

Long-time volunteer Tammy Meister has been lending her time on our homebuilding sites for years–and now she’s also supporting our work by donating her car through Cars For Homes.  She told us why her donation was personally meaningful to her:

Tammy Meister

Tammy Meister, who donated her car to Habitat through our Cars For Homes program.

“My car had special meaning for me because I inherited it from my grandmother when she passed away in 2004. She was an advocate for fair and affordable housing throughout her life. Although I was sad to recently have to replace my car, I was also happy to see it benefit an organization I wholeheartedly support and befittingly a cause my grandmother was also extremely passionate about.”

All vehicle donations are tax deductible, and vehicles registered in Philadelphia or the surrounding area will directly benefit Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia.  How does it work?  We use a partner company that collects your vehicle, sells it though auction, and sends all proceeds back to Habitat, which we can use to build and repair more homes in the city.

So donate your used car or truck today, and help support Habitat’s mission to provide safe, decent, affordable homes for Philadelphians in need!  You can learn more about Cars For Homes on our website, or start your car donation here.

Questions about donating your vehicle?  Contact Henry Randolph at henryr@habitatphiladelphia.org or 215.765.6000 x17.

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Never Stop Serving.

Many military veterans like Nick Haskell want to keep serving their country long after they are finished with their service.  Team Rubicon, a national non-profit group that organizes military veterans for emergency disaster relief across the world, gives them that chance.  And when they’re not responding to disasters, many TR members volunteer at Habitat Philadelphia, proving that the group is synonymous with hard work and dedication to a good cause.

Nick is a former Air Force Military Police Officer, and he’s been involved with Team Rubicon since its beginnings in 2010, after the earthquake that devastated Haiti.  A small group of American former military medical personnel—no longer serving but knowing that their skills were needed—headed down just three days after the quake to provide relief efforts.   Nick, who was deployed to Haiti, spent time with those veterans as they created what would become Team Rubicon.  “It was very interesting to see it from the start,” Nick says.  He has a heart for service (he’s also a volunteer fire fighter) and after finishing his time in the military, Team Rubicon was the first thing that came to mind.  “It was what I needed,” he says.  “I wanted to get out and meet people and do work.”

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Nick at a Habitat house he helped to build in Nepal.  His shirt is from the 2015 Habitat Builders’ Challenge in North Philly!

As a Team Rubicon member Nick has volunteered with Habitat for Humanity several times, but he says his favorite experience so far has been the Builders’ Challenge in North Philadelphia this past summer, when over 75 volunteers came together to frame five new Habitat homes in just three days. “What we got accomplished in the three days was unreal. There were about 15 members from TR.  We worked alongside side some other groups and the homeowners, which was pretty cool.”  When asked how his experience with Team Rubicon differs from other volunteering that he’s done, Nick said it’s the work ethic that sets TR members apart. “I’ve done volunteer work with other organizations, but it seems like with veterans, they never slow down. They just go, go, go, until the day’s over.  I think that’s what stands out the most.”

Since his experience helping in Haiti, Nick hasn’t forgotten the importance of volunteering overseas as well as in his own community.  This past fall he joined a Habitat for Humanity Global Village team that travelled to Nepal, another country recently devastated by an earthquake.  He and other volunteers built a house for a local family in four days.  “We really didn’t know what we were getting into because the details weren’t really ironed out until we were on site,” he says.  Once the team got there, they found out they’d be building everything, from the foundation to the roof. “It was an awesome experience!  We met the village and they cooked us lunch every day. The homeowners were also there building with us.”  It was the only Habitat house being built in the village, which Nick thought made the trip even more special.  He plans to join another Global Village trip as soon as he can.  Maybe he’ll recruit some other Team Rubicon volunteers to come, too.

For all of their hard work, Nick still describes the Team Rubicon community as easy-going. “It’s just like being in the military again—but fun,” he says.  “The friendships that you build in the military are different than the ones that you build in the civilian life, and you kind of get that feeling again with your TR friends.”

Interested in volunteering with Habitat, too?  Visit our website to learn more.  

 

 

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Giving Tuesday is Tomorrow. Are You Ready to #ShineOnHabitat?

Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday; these days are all well known for providing consumers with great deals on gifts and other material objects just before the holiday season. Here at Habitat Philadelphia, we’re more excited about Giving Tuesday!  Tomorrow, on December 1st, we encourage you to think about the reason for the season and give back to Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia. Your contribution supports our mission to bring safe, affordable homes to Philadelphia residents.

All around the world, people are posting Unselfies, or pictures of themselves pledging to give on Giving Tuesday; check out some of our friends who took their own Unselfies to support Habitat Philadelphia!

Giving Tuesday began four years ago as a simple plea on social media for the readers of mashable.com to think of giving instead of receiving as the holiday season approached. The hashtag #GivingTuesday went viral on Twitter and other social media platforms, and a movement was born. Over the past three Giving Tuesdays, millions of dollars have been raised for charities and non-profit organizations around the world, allowing these organizations to fulfill their missions and make a difference in millions of lives. This year, we created a series of videos to show what it means to #ShineOnHabitat for Giving Tuesday; see below for the most recent video and check our Facebook page on December 1 for the grand finale!

 

By donating to Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia tomorrow, you will be positively affecting the lives of our partner families, as well as the communities in which we build homes. In North Philadelphia, we are hard at work building Hope Village, a group of four homes that will house the Wilson family, the Banks Family, the Obafemi family, and the Allen family (pictured below). Tomorrow, all donations to Habitat Philadelphia will be automatically matched dollar-for-dollar, doubling your contribution up to $30,000! So tomorrow, remember the reason for the holiday season, and #ShineOnHabitat!

Partner Families at Hope Village large

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Serving Country, Serving Community

Our board of directors is a vital part of the Habitat family.  The board is entirely volunteer-driven—so every one of its members brings a unique reason for dedicating their time and energy to Habitat.  To celebrate Veterans’ Day, we’re highlighting board member Dave Hopkins, a veteran of the U.S Navy whose passion for working towards the greater good didn’t stop when he left the service.

Dave graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy; he was commissioned as a Surface Warfare Officer and deployed on tours in Central and South America.  He served for six and a half Dave Hopkinsyears before returning home to Philadelphia to start a career in homebuilding.  Looking back on his experience at the Naval Academy, he sees it as a precursor to his community service today.  “I’m fortunate that a lot of people helped me out in my life—taking time and interest in what I’ve done,” he says.  “If I can do something to make a positive impact for families, then I feel like I’m just returning the favor.”

But we had to ask—why Habitat?  The answer is simple, he says:  it’s the people.  “You listen to Habitat’s Partner Families, and the amount of hours that they put in to earn their zero-interest home mortgage,” says Dave.  “It’s a really compelling reason to volunteer—especially when you see the impact that homeownership has on their children.  It provides an opportunity that they deserve.”

Dave’s background in home construction is a natural fit for Habitat Philadelphia’s board of directors, where he contributes his experience to our Project Planning and Construction departments.  “My goal is to help them become more efficient—to build more homes with the same amount of money,” he says.

Operating a Navy ship and helping to lead a non-profit organization are admittedly very different.  But there are undeniable parallels.  “Being in the military has provided perspective,” says Dave.  “I have a deep appreciation for the opportunities in our country, and I have a deep appreciation for the sacrifice of military families.”  The connections to Habitat run deep.  Our affordable housing work offers a pathway out of poverty for hard-working families—a unique opportunity for them to build something better.  And over the past two years we’ve provided critical home repairs to 17 military veterans and their families.  You might see it as our way of giving a hand up to those who have dedicated so much in service to their country.

And it’s one more reason that Dave continues to give back so much of his time and talent to the community with Habitat Philadelphia—part of a profound life purpose.  “The amount of positive things that the U.S. military does in different countries—they do a lot,” he says.  “So it’s the same thing when you come home—you try to make a difference.  This is where we live.  Philly’s our city.”

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The Best Advice I Got All Summer

While he was home from college this summer, Andrew Utter volunteered for three weeks at our South Philadelphia ReStore. Here’s his guest blog about his experiences!

My school calendar isn’t always ideal. Being in a trimester system creates awkward scheduling conflicts for potential summer jobs and internships. After everything ends in mid-August (in time for the normal schools to start classes again) I’m left with a month to myself before I head back to school. After my first option fell through for this chunk of time this summer, I reverted to Plan B: scramble to find any company or organization willing to take on an inexperienced teenager for a mere month. Thanks to a dinner-time brainstorm session held in a booth at Bravissimo Pizza, the best advice I got all summer came from the Big Man himself (the Big Man referring to my father, of course).  His advice led me to volunteer at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, in South Philly.

Andrew in his blue volunteer vest outside the ReStore

Andrew in his blue volunteer vest outside the ReStore

My first day, in which I was a little too early and had to drive around the block an extra time or two waiting for the parking lot to be opened, started off in the back of the store, organizing doors. Apparently, there were too many doors sitting on the floor, and they had to be put in their proper positions in the racks. Each door, while not exactly massive in size, proved a challenge (I promise all doors are much heavier and more stubborn than you think). Jealous yet? I know you just can’t wait to sign up and make the trek into the city…

But let me tell you about the people. On any given day working at the ReStore, there are three different groups of people you’ll encounter: the customers, the fellow volunteers, and the staff members.

1. The customers. I’ll put money on the fact that you have never come across a more diverse group of people in your life. There are people shopping for the first couch they will ever own in their life, next to people searching for bargains on museum-quality chairs and tables. There are people looking to decorate their high-rise apartment with chic antiques, next to people trying to find economical solutions to their appliance needs. There are not many other stores I can think of where customers from so many different walks of life shop and interact.

The conversations about how different items are going to be used in the customer’s home may sometimes leave you more confused than when the conversation started, but by helping them walk out of the store with a smile on their face and 750 lbs of flooring adhesive in their trunk, you can’t help but crack a smile as well.

2. The volunteers. Also an eclectic bunch.  Within the group of volunteers in that day, some will know what they are doing, and some will have absolutely no clue. No matter which group you fall into, the trendy blue vests are a uniform all should be proud to wear. Much like the customers in the store, the backgrounds of each volunteer are extremely varied and each one is interesting. In my short time there, I was lucky enough to work with fellow college students, graduate students and faculty from Penn, Philadelphia high school students, work-study participants, investment bankers, and even an insurance salesman. And that’s just what you learn from the introductory conversations. Each and every volunteer is there for a different reason, but the common denominator is that they are there because they want to be. My reason, at first, was to kill time by doing something worthy of putting on a resume. After the first hour, I quickly realized I was there for much more than that.

Volunteering at the ReStore forces you to truly examine the value of an action. The exchange of a handshake and a “thank you” inspires more personal, intrinsic contentment than any dollar bills ever can. Even without acknowledgement from the customer, the knowledge that you had a part in improving their day carries weight. At least for me. And that became my reason for being there. I loved putting in the time and effort–truly loved it.

3. The staff members.  The most identifiable group of the three, they are easily spotted by their bright red t-shirts. Now, I want to preface this by saying each staff member is worthy of their own essay, and I hate to lump them all together, as they are also incredibly diverse, but the staff at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore is the most incredible and talented group of people I’ve come across in the city of Philadelphia. Each day, when I got home around 5:00, I quickly remembered that the store would just be closing. Even after closing, many of the staff stay late to prepare things for the next day. And then they go home to spend time with their families before getting up again to be at the store way before I’m even awake most mornings. “Dedicated” doesn’t even begin to describe these people.

During my average day at the ReStore, I sweat buckets. To those who know me, this isn’t much of a surprise, but regardless, the average day’s work is not easy. Lifting and moving furniture around is a constant game of Tetris. Don’t feel like your strengths are lifting things and moving them around? Spend the day repairing furniture. All of the furniture is donated, and while most of it is in great condition, screws and bolts often need to be tightened. Bed frames always need to be put together. I learned more about tools and how to improvise with the resources available than I ever have in wood shop class at school.

My Plan B for the second half of summer turned out to be the most rewarding three weeks I could’ve ever asked for. I developed a love for city I didn’t know three weeks ago. I met some of the most inspirational and awesome people. Heck, I even stayed in pretty decent shape considering the best slice of BBQ Chicken Pizza in Philly can be found a block from the ReStore at Kermit’s Bakery. Have 4 hours (or better yet a full day) to give? Go spend it at the ReStore. There’s something there for everyone.

Andrew Utter is a Sophomore student at Stanford University in California.  

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Faith In Action at the Pope Francis House

“We Christians are called to confront the poverty of our brothers and sisters, to touch it, to make it our own and to take practical steps to alleviate it.” -Pope Francis

As Pope Francis became the fourth Pontiff to ever step foot in the United States this past weekend, Philadelphians everywhere laid out the red carpet for his welcome. Banners were hung everywhere, welcoming the Pope to the City of Brotherly Love.  Pope Francis’s commitment to social justice has inspired so many to focus on service to others, and we at Habitat Philadelphia are no different!  On September 23 we welcomed over 30 students from local Catholic high schools to volunteer at our Pope Francis House, one of five new homes we’re building in North Philadelphia, at a development we call Hope Village.

Volunteers joined us from three local Catholic high schools--Mercy Vocational HS, La Salle College HS, and St. Joseph's Preparatory School--to help build our Pope Francis House and the other four homes at Hope Village in North Philadelphia

Volunteers joined us from three local Catholic high schools to help build our Pope Francis House and the other four homes at Hope Village in North Philadelphia

Students from Catholic high schools across the city converged at the Pope Francis House for our Catholic Day of Service on September 23rd.  Students from St. Joseph’s Preparatory School, La Salle College High School, and Mercy Vocational High School worked together to push the house forward, tackling everything from framing walls to electrical work to earth-moving.  Inspired by the work, a group leader named Alex shared a story from Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s earlier days, long before he became Pope Francis.  As a teacher of novices at seminary, Bergoglio would check their shoes each night when they returned home, to make sure they had walked through mud and dirt that day–the best proof that the novices had spent their day serving others in need.  By extension, this same spirit of service was applicable on our construction site, too.  “Today, we’re getting our shoes dirty in honor of Pope Francis,” said Alex.

Students from Mercy Vocational HS pose in front of the five houses we're building on Turner Street--including the Pope Francis House.

Students from Mercy Vocational HS pose in front of the five houses we’re building on Turner Street–including the Pope Francis House.

A generous anonymous donor has provided a gift of $60,000 to sponsor the Pope Francis House, which we’re building in tribute to the Pope’s visit to our city.  The donor seeks to inspire the Philadelphia community to match this gift by donating to support this special homebuilding project.  This challenge is a special opportunity to bring together both Catholic and non-Catholic communities to build a home for a local family in need while honoring Pope Francis’s belief that “Work confers dignity.”  And it’s a reminder to continue turning faith into action even after the Pope has finished his visit to Philadelphia.

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Volunteers and Habitat’s AmeriCorps members tackled the less-than-glamorous job of filling in this trench with gravel–but that didn’t keep them from smiling!

After working through the morning, volunteers broke to grab lunch and spend some time reflecting on the purpose of their day of service in honor of Pope Francis.  “There are prayers of word, and there are prayers of deed,” said one student.  “Today, it’s prayers of deed–prayers of action.”  And that statement is being lived out even after the Day of Service.  The Pope Francis House is on track to be completed before Christmas, when Lisa Wilson and her family will purchase the home and celebrate with Habitat and the community as they open the front door for the very first time.  We’ll invite these same hard-working students to come back for the home dedication, joining countless other volunteers and community members to see how generosity and teamwork have benefited others.

And this is another enduring legacy from Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia.  Long after he’s left our city, Lisa and her family will still benefit from the ideas of service and selflessness of his visit.  They will know the stability and safety of affordable homeownership because so many chose to help and get their shoes dirty.

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Lisa Wilson and her family are the future owners of the Pope Francis House.

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ReStore Makeover in an afternoon: New color for a mid-century dresser

We’re excited to welcome back Theresa, home renovation and DIY expert, and the force  (with her husband Mark) behind MyFixitUpLife.com!  Theresa guest blogs for us this week, sharing how she refreshed a piece she found at the Habitat Philadelphia ReStore.  

A perfect paint finish is easy if you follow a few simple steps, and practice patience, when spray painting furniture.  Bright colors update this mid-century find from Philly’s Habitat For Humanity ReStore.

MyFixitUpLife - Habitat for Humanity ReStore Dresser - After Restore Makeover

A mid-century dresser from Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore updated in just an afternoon with Krylon spray paint.

Whenever I’m doing a ReStore makeover project that needs to be finished in just an afternoon, I think of paint and my local ReStore. It’s like a giant playground for design inspiration on a budget. I never know what I’ll find, and I’m always inspired by what I see.

Inspiration occurs every time. But for this makeover… I swooned. My heart literally skipped a beat when I spotted this dresser designed by Theodore J. Walczer for the Showers Brothers Company in Bloomington, Indiana. Before you are impressed with my knowledge of furniture history, don’t be. I knew it was mid-century, but the little tag inside the drawer gave me all of its little secrets about the history of the piece.

Midcentury modern dresser

Amazing find at ReStore. This dresser was designed by Theodore J. Walczer for the Showers Brothers Company in Bloomington, Indiana

Priced at $60 at Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Philly, it was practically a steal. Especially when I asked Mr. Google about the piece when I got home. There same dresser is for sale at $300, and I found a video about the history of the furniture company. Let’s just say serious swoon-fest occurred.

While I love the original finish of the piece, I wanted to make it mine with color. And I wanted to update two other little finds: a little Buddha statue and a charming table lamp. It’s a ReStore makeover trifecta.

No matter the size of what I’m personalizing with a fresh color, I know that Krylon spray paint‘s quick dry times will make a makeover project fit inside the few hours I can squeeze out of my mommy-person lifestyle. Yes, Krylon is one of our makeover partners. And you can use whatever paint you like to do a makeover like this. I choose Krylon not because we’re friends. We’re friends because of Krylon’s ability to work with every kind of material in a short time, and have a factory-looking finish.

MyFixitUpLife - Habitat for Humanity ReStore Dresser - During

I use a cut-off as a paint guard when I’m spray painting. Loving this shade of periwinkle from Krylon.

When I looked at the dresser, I saw Periwinkle. So after sanding, wiping clean, and priming, I delighted in covering the dresser with Krylon CoverMaxx in Periwinkle.

Unlike most dresser makeovers, this piece doesn’t have knobs or pulls. Instead of adding them, I wanted to retain the lines of the original design in this ReStore makeover. So to add a bit of interest and highlight the drawer openings, I chose Piston Grey and Pistachio.

MyFixitUpLife - Habitat for Humanity ReStore Dresser - After

The dresser is done. And the little Buddha shines in gold next to an upcycled light-fixture-turned-into-a-planter, and the charming table lamp found at ReStore.

And of course, Buddha shines in gold with the table lamp in a new lamp shade of pin-striped turquoise. Yes, I swooned once more.

I hope you enjoy this Habitat for Humanity ReStore makeover video. Please share comments below or send a note in email or over on Twitter.

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