Quick tip: How to get a perfect paint finish with a few easy steps

We’re excited to welcome 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 and repurposed 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.

I’m kind of a perfectionist when it comes to painting.

Drips, blobs, runs, streaks, uneven color… all make me uncomfortable.

Especially when it’s easy to achieve a smooth ‘I-didn’t-know-it-came-in-that-color’ reaction from friends. Here are my essential steps to achieve that perfect paint finish.

1) If you are upcycling from your own home or from a Habitat for Humanity ReStore, clean it. Dust, dirt, and goo will never look smooth when painted.

2) Lightly sand the surface. If you aren’t sure about the material you are working with, send me or Krylontweet.

3) Wipe off all of the sanding dust with a soft cloth. If you use a paper towel or other kind of material, there could be little fuzzie particles left behind. Worse still, if you use something abrasive, there could be little knicks that you’ll notice on the finished piece. Not worth it.

4) Prime, if the spray paint can recommends it. Prime if there are inconsistencies in the current color finish. Prime if you have primer, even if the spray paint can says you don’t need it. Yes, you can skip this step. Priming is like insurance. It’s extra protection and helps make sure you have a perfect paint finish when you are done. Dust the surface in a few light coats.

5) After the primer is dry to the touch, or when the can says it is ready, lightly dust the surface in that hue you’ve been waiting to use. Don’t go crazy. The first pass or two won’t look perfect. It might not be the exact color on the Krylon lid yet. Have patience. Keep dusting. You’ll see it, and the slower you apply the color, the better chance you have at that perfect paint finish. It will be that color on the Krylon lid. I’ve never not seen it.

6) After that fun color is dry and ready (read the tiny print on the can, it usually says the recoat, and handling times), you may want to seal it with a gloss or other kind of finish. A clear coat can protect the color against those surprises in life. If this is a project that will live outside, I’d recommend coating it. Again, it’s a belt-and-suspenders. You don’t necessarily need it, but it could help.

Yes, if you haven’t already guessed, Krylon is a friend of MyFixitUpLife. I couldn’t have done what I designed for the Food Network series ‘Save My Bakery’ without their spray paint. When faced with a 48-hour project turnaround in thundersnow, dry times and perfect finishes are essential. We’ve had the pleasure to help share how-to through a few fun webisodes using Krylon products. And they have partnered with us for a series of makeovers using Habitat for Humanity ReStore items.

Mark and I never talk about a company’s products unless we truly believe in them. That’s why you don’t see random pop-up ads or one-off sponsored posts. We want you to be successful with your DIY projects and stay inspired to keep reaching for your tools.
Share your spray painting tips or questions in the comments below, or head over to Facebook or Twitter right now and talk with us. You inspire us. -T

See more of Theresa’s great creations and ideas (including other pieces she’s bought at the Habitat ReStore) at MyFixitUpLife.com!

Habitat ReStore Bench makeover - MyFixitUpLife - Perfect paint finish

A perfect paint finish is easy if you follow a few simple steps, and practice patience.

Bench Makeover - MyFixitUpLife

Lightly sand the surface.

Bench Makeover - MyFixitUpLife

Wipe off the sanding dust with a soft cloth.

Bench Makeover - MyFixitUpLife

Prime, if the spray paint can recommends it. Yes, you can skip this step, but it adds extra protections and helps make sure you have the perfect paint finish.

Bench Makeover - MyFixitUpLife

Lightly dust the surface in that hue you’ve been waiting to use. Don’t go crazy. The first pass or two won’t look perfect.

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Pam Banks and the Recipe for Habitat Success

Pam Banks is busy these days, but you’ll rarely find her without a smile on her face.  Since starting our homeownership program last year, she’s finished 350 hours of Sweat Equity on Habitat’s construction sites and at the ReStore.  That’s on top of working and raising her two sons, Kenneth (age 7) and Malachi (age 10).  “I’ve got some things going,” she says with an easy laugh, which might win for biggest understatement of the year.  And for anyone who’s new to construction work (especially if you’re no longer in your 20’s), she recommends a couple of must-have tools.  “Epsom salt and Tylenol.  I keep them in the medicine cabinet now.  Other than that, the little aches—they come with the territory!”

How does she balance it all?  “I’m looking back and trying to figure that out!” she jokes.  One of Pam’s most distinctive characteristics is her sheer determination to work towards something better for her family.  “It hasn’t been difficult,” she says of the homeownership program.  “Once I committed, it was like, ‘We’re gonna do this.’ And that was it.”  She also draws energy from her family.  “My sons are good company—if I didn’t have them, I’d probably be crazy right now—they keep me busy!”

Habitat For Humanity Partner Family Philadelphia

At our ReStore Grand Opening, Pam (right) jumped into the festivities alongside Eagles Cheerleaders!

Pam currently rents a two-bedroom apartment in a public housing complex, but it’s not enough space, especially as her sons grow.  “I was working and my hours were cut, so the low-income housing came in at the right time,” she explains.  “I do appreciate it, but it’s nowhere near ideal.  My two sons share a room now—but it’s so small.  You have the bed in the room, and just enough walk-space—and that’s it.”  Just about everything in the tiny apartment is too small for the family, including the kitchen.  “I like to cook, and I like for my daughters [now full-grown with their own families] to come over.  But it’s crowded and uncomfortable.”

Pam Banks at the Habitat For Humanity ReStore

Pam (center) with Habitat staff Shonda (left) and Rebecca (right).

So Pam is quick to list the ways homeownership will be a good thing for her family.  Besides finally having enough space, “we can always go into the house and close the door, so whatever’s going on outside, we’ll have that feeling of security from being in our home.  And Kenneth and Malachi will have their own rooms.  They get to be themselves that way—we can be together here, but they can always branch off and do their own thing by themselves.  Sometimes Malachi doesn’t want to be bothered with his little brother, and I understand that!”

And for herself—what’s she most looking forward to?  “Stability,” she says, without a moment’s hesitation. “Closing the door—the peace of mind I’ll have.  I work for it, and it’s my time to be stable,” she says.  ‘It’ll be the house that’s meant for me and my family.”

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Heads Up, South Philly: The ReStore Hits Washington Ave!

Ahh, summer!  School’s out, the Shore is calling, the Pope is on his way to Philly. But what’s really got DIY designers, home renovators and deal-hunters buzzing is our new ReStore, opening at 2318 Washington Avenue on Friday, June 26 and Saturday, June 17.  This is BIG, friends, and we’re inviting the entire city to help us celebrate!
Habitat For Humanity ReStore in South Philly

Won’t be long now! The space is looking great, inside and out.

The ReStore Grand Opening is (in our humble opinion) the very definition of a summer blockbuster.  Why?  For one, we’re the next great thing on the Washington Avenue West retail corridor, just down the street from Kermit’s Bake Shoppe, Nextfab, Cafe Ynez and Builders’ Row–and just blocks from six new Habitat homes we’ve just finished in Point Breeze.  And the ReStore is a case study in local sustainability–every dollar of profit helps us build and repair more homes across Philadelphia, empowers more low-income families in need of housing, and gives perfectly good home materials a second life instead of going to the landfill.  As far as we can tell, that’s one of the best business models in town.

Habitat Philadelphia ReStore Grand Opening:  high-end furniture, kitchen appliances and flat-screen televisions

Some of what you’ll see at the Grand Opening: high-end furniture, kitchen appliances and flat-screen televisions!

And let’s talk about the shopping. The ReStore is the best place in town to find high-quality, second-hand furniture, building supplies, home decor and appliances.  We sell items at 50-70% below their original value, so you’ll find serious deals everywhere you look.  We’ve been saving some pretty amazing stuff for the Grand Opening–think West Elm, The Sharper Image, Colonial Marble, Daltile and more.  And the inventory is always changing, so you’ll see new deals every time you visit!

“But,” you ask, “is it really worth going to the Grand Opening? I mean it’s summer, it’s hot, and I’d rather sit on my couch watching Game of Thrones, thank you very much.”  Yes, it is totally worth going to the Grand Opening, and here’s why.  We’re giving out $10 in ReStore bucks to the first 100 people through the door Friday and Saturday–and getting there early means you’ll get first pass on the amazing pieces we have in stock!  Don’t miss food from Federal Donuts, Rosa’s Fresh Pizza (as seen on the Ellen Show!), Kermit’s Bake Shoppe, and the Schmear It Bagel Truck, and soak up the South Philly party vibe with a DJ and raffle prizes through Saturday afternoon!

And while you’re at the ReStore, remember that there’s no better source in town for DIYers, Upcyclers, and creative home design.  Whether you’re a seasoned do-it-yourself pro or you’re just getting your feet wet, we’ve got what you need to start (and finish) an amazing home project on a budget–whether you’re painting a bedroom, upcycling a piece of furniture, or installing new kitchen cabinets.  Looking for ideas?  Stop by the Grand Opening Friday 11 am – 3 pm and Saturday 11 am – 2 pm to chat with celebrity DIY home-renovation experts Steve Thomas (of This Old House) and Theresa Clement (of MyFixitUpLife.com) about all your home improvement and design questions.  Wondering how to refinish that cool old rocking chair you just picked up from the ReStore?  Not sure how to install a backsplash on your kitchen counters? Come by and find out from the pros!  In the meantime, check out Theresa’s fabulous blog on how she transformed three old chairs from the ReStore into bright, breezy new pieces.  And wander through her website for step-by-step guides to upcycle old doors (and you’ll find plenty at the ReStore!), paint a room, and start a DIY pallet project.  Get inspired, then get started at the Habitat ReStore!

Habitat Philadelphia ReStore DIY Upcycling

A sampling of what you’ll find at the Restore–paradise for DIY and Upcycling projects!

Can’t make it to the Grand Opening?  The ReStore is open to the public Wednesday through Saturday each week, from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm!  (We’ll be closed on July 4th.)  Getting rid of furniture, home goods or building supplies?  It’s easy to donate to the ReStore—schedule your free donation pick-up by calling us at 215.739.9300 or visiting our website.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for the latest news and photos coming out of the South Philly ReStore (and sneak a peek at the great things we’ll have for sale).  Spread the word about the new ReStore on social media using #ReStorePhilly.

Habitat for Humanity South Philadelphia ReStore floor layout

An eagle’s eye view of the floor layout at the new ReStore. So much great stuff.

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Why the New South Philly ReStore is Worth Getting Excited About

Q. I heard the Habitat ReStore is coming to South Philly!  Is it true?!

A. You heard right—the ReStore is growing! We’re thrilled to announce the Grand Opening of our NEW location in South Philadelphia at 2318 Washington Avenue on June 26 and 27.  Our bright new storefront is the newest addition to the bustling Washington Ave. retail corridor, and it’s is easily accessible from Center City, University City, I-76 and I-95.  As a beacon for bargain deals, Habitat’s ReStore draws contractors, DIYers, home designers and others looking for high quality building supplies, appliances, furniture and home goods at deep discounts.

And the South Philly ReStore is coming at perfect place and the perfect time, as Washington Ave’s revitalization becomes a symbol of neighborhood revitalization across Philadelphia.  Top among U.S. Cities for tourism, shopping and “going green,” there’s no denying it—our city is on the rise. And who better to promote great shopping and urban sustainability than Habitat Philadelphia, with our ReStore?

New Habitat for Humanity ReStore in South Philadelphia

Here’s what our new South Philly ReStore will look like when it opens in June 2015.

Awesome!  How does the ReStore work, anyway?

Great question. The Habitat ReStore accepts donations of furniture, building supplies and home goods, then we resell them at our storefront, open to the public—and all proceeds go straight back into Habitat’s affordable housing work, helping us build and repair more homes in partnership with low-income families in need of a safe, healthy place to call home.  It’s easy to donate to the ReStore and it’s a great choice for the environment—we offer free donation pick-ups five days each week, and since 2012 we’ve kept more than 1500 tons of perfectly good furniture, home goods, etc. from ending up in landfills.  (Check out our website for lots more info about the ReStore.)

So—why should I shop at the Restore?  Aren’t there a ton of other second-hand stores in Philly?

There are.  But the ReStore isn’t like other thrift stores, you see.  You’ll find amazing furniture, appliances and building supplies here at 50 to 75% off their original cost—making your home redesign, renovation or DIY project affordable and unique.  Our inventory consists of thousands of new and gently-used items and our inventory is always changing, so you’ll see different pieces every time you visit.  And you know that every dollar you spend makes a difference in the lives of a hardworking local family.

Smart.  Very smart.  And it just so happens that I’m renovating my house!  What kinds of things can I donate to the ReStore?

Glad you asked—the ReStore accepts everything from windows to washing machines!  Here’s a partial list of what we can take:

  • Kitchen appliances, large and small
  • Cabinets
  • Furniture
  • Air Conditioning & Heating Units
  • Electrical fixtures, parts, supplies
  • Lighting and ceiling fans
  • Lumber
  • Plumbing – Toilets, vanities, shower enclosures
  • Doors
  • Tile/Hard-Wood Flooring
  • Wood or Vinyl windows
  • Hand or power tools
  • Electronics – flat screen TVs/DVD, CD & VCR/Record players

You can see the full list at www.habitatphiladelphia.org/items-accepted.  It’s the safe, easy, reliable way to get rid of those kitchen cabinets, that refrigerator or range, or the old bedroom furniture.  Have functioning power tools or leftover building supplies that you aren’t using?  We’ll take ‘em!  Is your company renovating the office and wondering what to do with 25 office chairs?  We’ll come pick ‘em up!  Better yet, every donation is fully tax-deductible!  Ready to donate to the ReStore?  Call us at 215.739.9300 or fill out our online donation form and we’ll send out our friendly, professional staff to pick up your donations for free.

And how about shopping the ReStore?  Any ideas for what to do with all these great pieces I’m finding?

Absolutely—the possibilities are endless!  The ReStore is the perfect home design outlet for all sorts of people.  You can find the perfect piece to complement your existing décor and complete your cozy home vibe.  The ReStore attracts creative types and it’s a goldmine for “upcycling”—taking old household items and creatively repurposing and refinishing them to make something creative, quirky and beautiful for the home.  In fact, this past January we hosted the Upcycle Challenge DIY design competition at the Philadelphia Home Show, inviting local designers and DIY experts to create home design pieces using only items they found at the ReStore.  Here are a couple of examples of their work:

The Habitat Restore Upcycle Challenge DIY design entry

Heather Ely’s DIY planter is a repurposed buffet table she found at the ReStore.

Habitat ReStore Upcycle Challenge DIY Home Design

Jenna Alpher repurposed cabinets and a classic red wagon–so creative!

Kyle Wareham, a regular ReStore shopper, walked away with the first-place prize.  He explains what he likes about the ReStore:  “At the ReStore, everything can be used to make something else.  Chandeliers can be used to make terrariums for plants, track lights can be used to make planters, and bed frames can be used for hanging vines.  The fun thing about the ReStore is that even if you don’t find what you were looking for the first time, you go the next day and you might find it, since they keep bringing in new things.  It’s worth going there every day—and the new ReStore location is so close to my place that I’ll be there all the time!”  You can see all of the 2015 entries, including Kyle’s winning piece, on Pinterest.

Looking for some starter ideas?  There’s lot of info online–check out these DIY design websites to get inspired:

Buzzfeed:  31 Insanely Easy and Clever DIY Projects

Architecturendesign.net: 29 cool backyard furniture DIYs

25 Easy and Brilliant Tips to Give a New Life to Old Furniture

36 Easy and Beautiful DIY Projects for Home Decorating

The ReStore sounds like an awesome place–I’m sold.  How can I shop?  When is the South Philly location opening?

We can’t wait to see you there!  We’re renovating our new Washington Avenue location as we speak and we’ll be opening our doors to the public in June—stay tuned on Facebook and Twitter for updates about the Grand Opening on June 26 and 27.  See you at the Habitat ReStore!

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Tackling Poverty Housing with the Philadelphia Eagles

by Maria Qureshi

Philadelphia Eagles Care Partnership

It’s been six months since we started our Care Partnership with the Philadelphia Eagles, and it’s the perfect time to check in on the progress we’re making together.  As proud Philadelphians who take their commitment to the community seriously, the Philadelphia Eagles believe there is no off-season to good citizenship. That’s why each month, members of the Eagles administration share professional expertise with our staff on topics like marketing, corporate sales, videography and social media—while Eagles players bring their muscle and energy to Habitat projects and events across the city.  And they’ve been busy!

Eagles players Emmanuel Acho and Earl Wolff were key players for us on Veterans’ Day last November, when they joined veteran volunteers for a day of construction work at our Point Breeze homebuilding project.  They worked side-by-side with volunteers from veteran groups Got Your 6, The Mission Continues, Team Rubicon and the Pat Tillman Foundation, pushing forward on the future homes of six Habitat partner families.  Acho said he appreciated the opportunity to show the veterans just what their service to the community meant to him.  “It was an awesome experience, just being able to work with veterans and helping for a greater cause,” Acho said in an article on the Eagles website.  “Now, after their [military] service, they’re able to continue serving their community, first and foremost.”

Emmanuel Acho and Earl Wolff joined veteran volunteers for a day of hard work at our six future homes in Point Breeze for Veterans Day 2014.

Emmanuel Acho and Earl Wolff joined veteran volunteers for a day of hard work at our six future homes in Point Breeze for Veterans Day 2014.

Also last November, Mychal Kendricks and Chris Polk made an appearance at our Young Professionals’ annual Habi-Hour in Center City, drawing crowds, working the room and helping our Young Professionals raise over $7,000 for Habitat.  We loved having these guys with us at such a successful event!

Habitat's Young Professionals welcomed Mychal Kendricks and Chris Polk to their annual Habi-Hour.

Habitat’s Young Professionals welcomed Mychal Kendricks and Chris Polk to their annual Habi-Hour.

Eagles players helped us end the year on a high note in December.  Mark Sanchez, Connor Barwin, Beau Allen, Swoop and Cheerleaders joined our staff, volunteers and partner families to welcome the Moore-Bonfante family into their new Habitat home in South Philadelphia, just in time for the holidays.  Rhonda, the new homeowner, couldn’t have been more excited to finally move in.  “Home means heart, it means warmth, it means stability,” she said in a fantastic video produced by the Eagles.  “My husband and I and my son were out here together working on the construction—and that’s a good feeling, when you’ve invested in your own house with labor.”

New homeowner Rhonda celebrates her home dedication with (from left) Eagles players Beau Allen, Mark Sanchez and Connor Barwin, and Habitat Board member Tobey Oxholm

New homeowner Rhonda celebrates her home dedication with (from left) Eagles players Beau Allen, Mark Sanchez and Connor Barwin, and Habitat Board member Tobey Oxholm.

The celebration kicked off with a ribbon-cutting ceremony in front of the family’s new house, and Rhonda, the new homeowner, had a special request—for one of the players to carry her through the front door!  Sanchez and Barwin looked over to Allen, who rolled up his sleeves, tucked in his shirt and—the perfect gentleman—made sure that Rhonda entered her house for the first time in true style.

Defensive Tackle Beau Allen carries Rhonda into her new Habitat home.  What more could she ask for?

Defensive Tackle Beau Allen carries Rhonda into her new Habitat home. What more could she ask for?

Just last week, the Eagles welcomed Habitat to the NovaCare Complex for a special event thanking Table Captains at this year’s Building HOPE Luncheon on Tuesday, April 28. The evening featured strategy talks by special teams coaches and a surprise chance to help welcome DeMarco Murray as the newest member of the team–what a way to build excitement for the Building HOPE Luncheon!  Click here to reserve your seat or table.

DeMarco Murray welcomed by Habitat For Humanity Philadelphia

Habitat welcomes Running Back DeMarco Murray to the city after he announces signing to the Philadelphia Eagles.

It’s been a great ride so far, and we can’t wait to continue partnering with the Philadelphia Eagles in fun and creative ways over the next six months of our partnership!

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A Time for Reflection: Our Faith Relations Year in Review

by Zach Wilcha

The end of the calendar year is a hectic time for everyone. As holidays approach, we tend to lose track of our bearings. Who can blame us? It seems like our to-do lists, filled with shopping and parties and so many obligations, grow faster than we can keep up with around Christmas and Hanukkah time. It can be exhausting. However, as the New Year approaches, it’s also a time to reflect on what the past year has brought and what we’ve done to help others and enrich ourselves.

The older we get and the crazier the world seems to become, we at Habitat Philadelphia like to reflect on how we have fared in our service and devotion to others. This year, as we contemplate the homes we’ve built and repaired, we realize that none of the work we did would have been possible without Philadelphia’s vibrant faith community who help us in so many ways. Whether it’s through prayer, collections, gifts in-kind, or financial investments in large-scale projects, our partner houses of faith have helped us further our Mission as they satisfy their desire to serve others.

Just look how the Faith Community helped us create safe, decent, affordable housing for Philadelphia’s vulnerable families!

Volunteers at Building on Faith Week 2014

Volunteers painting one of 19 homes repaired on a West Philadelphia block during Building on Faith Week 2014.

This year alone, 15 congregations joined us to repair 19 West Philadelphia homes in the span of 4 days during our second annual Building on Faith Week. Enon Tablernacle Baptist Church led the charge by sponsoring two of those homes. The Jewish Federation of Philadelphia partnered with us to repair the homes of 13 Jewish families in Northeast Philadelphia. The Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill donated a significant amount of resources – both financial and manpower – to help us complete four new homes in Germantown. Bryn Mawr Presbyterian continued their decades-long tradition of sending regular volunteers and financial help to repair blocks in West Philadelphia. Church of the Holy Trinity held a rummage sale that raised thousands of dollars for our housing programs. The First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia not only sent volunteers to our sites throughout the year, but also held a collection at one of their services to benefit our programs. When we needed help feeding volunteers, Grace UMC on Oak Lane stepped up to the plate and prepared lunches for us. St. Cornelius Parish sent volunteers to site and became the first house of faith to sponsor a table at our Building HOPE Luncheon.

So many congregations – St. Genevieve Parish, St. Christopher’s, Congregation Rodeph Shalom, the Mormon Church, and St. Mark’s Episcopal, just to name a few – joined us on site to volunteer. Many congregations organized ReStore drives, allowing us to collect literally tons of goods to resell to the public. Countless other congregations held us in their prayers, supporting us as we created new opportunities for our partner families.

Habitat volunteers from Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill

A volunteer team from Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill helped us build four new Habitat homes in Germantown.

So upon reflection, our Faith Community partnered with us to make statements of joy and compassion all year round. Thanks to their service, more than 100 families will spend the holidays in a safer, healthier, more beautiful home. Thanks to their kindness, we imparted a sense of pride in home and ability to take on the challenges of being a homeowner. Thanks to their compassion, we made it safe to turn on a light switch which previously sparked, walk across a floor which used to have holes, or walk down a set of stairs which had been missing steps or a handrail. Thanks to their generosity, we lowered utility bills with new windows which keep out the winter cold and open to let in spring breezes.

Volunteers from Enon Tabernacle at Building On Faith Week 2014

Volunteers from Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church repairing a home in West Philadelphia during Building On Faith Week 2014

Thanks to everyone at our amazing partner houses of faith, we allowed families to come home to somewhere safe, decent, and affordable and passed these blessings forward to future generations.

Certainly something worth pondering amidst the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.

The Habitat ReStore truck at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian

Habitat’s ReStore truck at a donation drive led by Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church.

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Boots for Building 2014: “Get Your Boots On and GIVE BACK!”

by Henry Randolph

“Remember:  we leave no one behind.”  Iraq veteran and former U.S. Representative Patrick Murphy helped kick off the first-ever Boots For Building with those words, encouraging more than 150 military veterans from around the region not to forget about those in the community who need their help.  From September 19 – 21, veteran volunteers from Team Rubicon, Student Veterans of America and Team Depot joined us in Philadelphia to build and repair homes for veterans and non-veterans alike, thanks to a grant from The Home Depot Foundation.  Over these three days their work sent a powerful message:  veterans are still heroes even after they’ve left military service—and more than that, they’re still indispensable to a healthy community.  Across our construction sites, one rallying cry came up again and again:  “Get your boots on and give back!”

And our crew did just that in the Germantown section of Philadelphia, where they worked with homeowner and military veteran Ken Houston to make critical repairs to his home.  After leaving the U.S. Marine Corps in 1971, Ken graduated from St. Joseph’s University, bought a house in Germantown, and dove into a career focused on youth development and

Veteran volunteers at a Habitat Philadelphia home repair project

Volunteers from Team Rubicon, Team Depot and Student Veterans of America worked with Habitat staff to renovate the 2nd floor of Ken’s home.

community engagement.  Even in retirement Ken is deeply involved with community projects, but he’s taking things more slowly these days.  He used to love doing repair work on his home himself, but it’s becoming more difficult to make those repairs now, at age 65 and on a fixed retirement income. “I’m getting older and my knees won’t let me do as much or carry heavy things,” says Ken.

Many of the home’s issues stem from long-term roof damage that he couldn’t afford to repair.  “Water damaged the entire second floor, so I’ve been living in only one room of the house—cooking, eating, sleeping, working—everything,” says Ken.  It’s been hard for someone as naturally engaged and active as he is.  “When everything is in one room, it’s hard to read, it’s hard to relax, because I’m always thinking about other things that need to be done, or worrying about things in the house falling apart.  There’s always a sense of urgency.”

More than 30 volunteers worked on Ken’s house during Boots For Building, helping with everything from exterior painting and façade repair to bathroom renovations. The improvements mean big changes in Ken’s life, both tangible and intangible.  Most noticeable, he says, is the peace of mind.  “Once the work is done, I’ll be able to spread out and be less cramped. I’ll have the ability to relax.”  He started feeling better almost

Team Depot, Team Rubicon and Student Veterans of America at Boots for Building

Volunteers repainting the exterior of Ken’s home on Day 2 of Boots For Building.

immediately once we repaired and sealed the roof. “I didn’t realize how much I was worrying about the roof.  But now that it’s repaired, I can enjoy actually living in my home—I can rest and be more productive.  I’m less restless now, and I realized that I’m sleeping better.”  And he’ll finally have space to welcome people into his home again, like his neighbors on the block and his two grown children, who travel back to Philadelphia to visit him.  “They hardly came over before, and they always had to find someplace else to spend the night,” he says.  “Living in one room, it was just too cramped.  Now I finally feel comfortable having them come over and stay.”

Our work will make Ken’s house more comfortable and longer-lasting, allowing him to stay safe and secure at home for many years to come.  And Ken says his house is more than that—it’s an affirmation of his role as a teacher, supporter, and advocate for the neighborhood. “I used to be the Director of the Boys’ Club of Germantown, which is just down the street,” he says. “The boys that I worked with—every time they walked to the club they’d pass my house.  Now a lot of those boys are adults, but they’re still living in the neighborhood.  After all these years, the house isn’t falling down.  To me, the appearance of my repaired house is a visual sense of stability for the community.”

Home repair volunteer at Habitat Philadelphia

Before and after: the house looks great! Habitat volunteers and staff join Ken in front of his house, with its new coat of paint and new windows.

By the final day of Boots For Building, Ken’s house looked completely different.  Newly-replaced windowpanes and a bright new coat of exterior paint made the home glow in the afternoon sun.  Inside, volunteers had helped to literally double the amount of livable space, with new drywall and fresh paint catching the bright sunlight that streamed through the upstairs bedroom windows.  Neighbors honked and waved from passing cars or took photos as they walked past, telling Ken how amazing his home looked.  Before they left, our crew of veteran volunteers presented Ken with a hardhat signed by everyone who had worked on his home.  It was a symbol of the connection they had—both as military veterans and as members of the community invested in each other’s well-being.  Each veteran there understood what it meant to give freely of themselves in service to others, and knew the truth in the statement they had all heard many times before:  “We leave no one behind.”

Habitat home repair homeowner Ken with hardhat

Ken, a military veteran and homeowner, puts on the hardhat that Boots for Building volunteers signed and presented to him.

Posted in Habitat Families, Partners, Sustainability, Weatherization/Home Repair | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Philadelphia to Nicaragua (and Back): Local Building, Global Impact

by Henry Randolph

Habitat Philadelphia builds and repairs homes locally, but we’re making a global impact!  Through the Habitat For Humanity tithe system, we donate a tenth of what we raise each year to Habitat affiliates across Latin America, where we’ve helped over 125 families since our founding.  Since 2010 we’ve focused our efforts on Nicaragua, where we’ve sent $112,000 and helped 25 families achieve safe, stable, affordable housing.

This summer our Executive Director Frank Monaghan and his son Dennis (who’s been dedicating his summers to our build sites in Philadelphia for years) traveled to Nicaragua through Global Village, a worldwide Habitat program that places volunteers in developing countries to help the local Habitat affiliate build for a week.  Frank and Dennis flew into Managua, the capital city, where they joined the rest of their team and staff from Habitat para la Humanidad Nicaragua.  As they traveled through the city’s outskirts to site where they’d be building, Habitat staff shared some sobering statistics about housing in the country, which they saw passing by in real time as they looked out the car window:  48% of households have a dirt floor, and 19% don’t have a latrine or outhouse.

Habitat Philadelphia's Global Village build in Nicaragua

Frank (left) and Dennis (right) take a break from building for a photo with Lehnar, 6, and his friend.

The volunteer team got settled and met the family they’d be building with:  Majikta, a school teacher who earns $400/month, and Lehnar, 6, her son.  Majikta owns a small property but they didn’t have the money to build on it; instead they lived in a makeshift shelter with tarp walls, slept on a single cot, and kept a kitchen set up outside.

Habitat Philadelphia's Global Village build in Nicaragua

The makeshift shelter that Majikta and her son Lehnar lived in before their Habitat house was built.

Frank and Dennis found that the house they were building was completely different from houses back home.  Each 280-square foot, two-room house that Habitat Nicaragua builds costs $4,500 from start to finish—and everything is built by hand.  “We had to mix all of the mortar for the cinderblock walls—which meant mostly me and Dennis!” says Frank.  By the end of the week every part of this two-room house was finished except the paint and the water lines (it would get running water and a toilet), and Frank and Dennis had some very sore muscles.

But they quickly saw that while building styles are different, the family and their dreams—decent housing as a source of stability and a brighter future—were entirely the same.   At the end of the trip, the neighborhood helped welcome Majikta and Lehnar home at a dedication ceremony, complete with a ribbon-cutting and balloons.  “Majikta was so unbelievably happy to have a house,” said Frank.  “It’s the same as one of our dedications here in Philadelphia.  This family is now safer than they were where they’d been living before.  They have such a better chance at all of the good things in life.”  And what’s a home dedication without a giant piñata hung in front of the house?  Kids from around the neighborhood lined up to hit it, and it was Dennis who took the final swing that broke it open, sending candy flying everywhere and dozens of kids chasing madly after it.  “The kids are kids, no matter where you are,” says Frank.  “That’s the human spirit.”

Habitat Philadelphia's Global Village build in Nicaragua: Home dedication

Majikta and Lehnar (center) at their new home dedication. Global Village volunteers helped welcome them home.

Watch a video from Habitat para la Humanidad Nicaragua about the difference that homeownership makes in the life of one family at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ieCLUE9Hd4&list=UUoCL_xVzgSI1YQ9ZptAHffg.

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Who Says You Can’t Go Home Again? Rebuilding Hope in West Philly

by Henry Randolph

Lorraine Gomez knows what it means to be rooted to a place.  She has rich memories of growing up on Viola Street in West Philadelphia, on a block lined with huge trees and elegant Victorian-style houses built in the 1870s.  Despite its beautiful architecture, the neighborhood has seen hard times since Lorraine was young.  People moved away, businesses left, and much of the surrounding neighborhood has fallen into disrepair.  But Lorraine and her husband Gerald refuse to let their street become another story of blight and neglect.  Together with other block residents they formed the Viola Street Residents’ Association (VSRA), which is reversing the decline and becoming a model of community organization and optimism.  For the Gomezes and their neighbors, investing effort into their block isn’t just about making it a nicer place to live right now.  It’s about re-establishing the roots of the community and helping it thrive for future generations.

Lorraine and Gerald Gomez in their kitchen, which Habitat helped them repair.

Lorraine and Gerald Gomez in their kitchen. The Gomezes helped start the Viola Street Residents’ Association, which has helped revitalize this block of historic homes.

This summer Habitat gave Viola Street a major boost, providing façade improvements and exterior repairs to 18 homes on the block over a single week in June with the help of over 200 volunteers from local faith groups.  The Gomezes also applied for additional home repairs funded by a special grant from The Home Depot Foundation, which awarded Habitat Philadelphia $150,000 to provide repairs to 10 local military veterans.

The Gomezes’ life story suggests that you can go home again, if you work hard enough for it.  Lorraine served in the Air Force with her husband after college and then moved to New Jersey, but they soon realized that they missed the neighborhood cohesion that they’d grown up with.  They moved back to Lorraine’s childhood home in 2003, and found that there were others on the block with the same idea.  “There’s a group of us who moved back into our families’ homes.  We call ourselves the ‘re-plants.’  And once we got back, we could see a vision of this block being great.  So we all got together and started talking about organizing our block, and that’s how we formed the Viola Street Residents’ Association.  And it’s just been picking up momentum.”

The block had fallen into major disrepair in the years they’d been gone.  But the ethic that drove the VSRA was this:  if you can envision it, you can achieve it.  They started as a small but active group, scheduling regular block clean-ups and holding fundraisers, using the money to maintain the street and the vacant lots.  Other residents started joining as they saw the efforts paying off, and the association has grown from five to 25 members.  “This is what a community should be doing,” says Lorraine.  “We’re all stakeholders here.”  Besides its partnership with Habitat, the VSRA has secured support from other local sources like the Philadelphia Horticultural Society and City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell.  Just a few years after the VSRA began, the block is well-maintained and thriving.

Looking down Viola Street, where Habitat has provided home repairs to 18 homeowners this summer.

Looking down Viola Street, where Habitat has provided home repairs to 18 homeowners this summer.

“One thing I learned in the military is that you have to be civically engaged,” says Lorraine.  “If you don’t, things will go right by.  Everybody wants change, everybody wants things to get better, so you’ve got to do something to make it happen.”

Besides focusing on improving the block, the Gomezes and many of their neighbors had their own aging home to worry about, which is why Habitat’s repair program was such a good fit.   Our work on the block helped the VRSA beautify and maintain the sidewalks and open lots, but it also addressed critical maintenance and safety issues for individual homeowners.  “The rehab that they’re doing to my house—my husband and I could never afford it,” Lorraine says.  Besides issues that they knew about (for example, an old roof leak had caused much of the third floor ceiling plaster to collapse) there were other unwelcome surprises.  “It was amazing—they took up the kitchen floor and showed me where the joists were corroded.  Five years from now we would have gone through the floor.  My heater was putting off carbon monoxide, and we didn’t know.  And the house is old, so the heat was going out through the cracks.”  Habitat’s home repair team addressed each of these issues, replacing windows, insulation and the heating system.

Volunteers pause to take lunch on Viola Street.  Habitat hosted over 200 volunteers over a single week in June, when they helped provide repairs to 18 homes on the block.

Volunteers pause to take lunch on Viola Street. Habitat hosted over 200 volunteers over a single week in June, when they helped provide repairs to 18 homes on the block.

The Gomezes are ecstatic.  “The work that they’re doing is going to help us live longer and more safely—our house is going to be sealed, our energy bills are going to go down.  This is the best thing that’s happened to us since sliced bread!”  Accessibility upgrades are being put in with an eye towards the couple’s later years.  “They’re going to put grab-bars in our bathroom, and a rail on the front steps.  We’ll be 65 before you know it, and we’re going to need these things.  And to have them in our house already is going to make life so much easier for my husband and I.  It’s been truly a blessing.”

When asked why she puts so much time into the block and the Viola Street Residents’ Association, Lorraine mentions the future homeowners—the kids growing up here under the shade of newly planted trees, whom she hopes will continue caring for the block as she ages.  She mentions her son and his family, who recently moved into the house next to hers.  “You can’t just sit back—I can’t make it better for my grandson if I sit back and do nothing.  These children—they’re my future.  If I can’t help them, then what’s my purpose?”

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Habitat Builders’ Challenge Media Blitz!

builders challenge









The Habitat Builders’ Challenge took place July 17-19 at our Point Breeze work site, with local construction companies stepping forward to volunteer their services and help us frame six homes in just three days. For Habitat Philadelphia, this equals a savings of over $65,000 for our budget and will put us ahead of our production schedule by over four months. Everyone was a winner – especially our partner families, who move closer to their dreams of homeownership thanks to the efforts of our volunteer construction experts. We couldn’t be more grateful for the support of our participants: J.J. White, Dale Corporation and the Metro Region Council of Carpenters, Equinox Construction, Paiz Construction and St. John’s Presbyterian Church.

Check our our YouTube channel for a time-lapse video of the houses going up!

Our “urban barn-raising” experiment was the talk of the town, as this inspiring story was featured everywhere you looked on television, in print, on the radio, and all over social media. Below is a guide to the media blitz. We’re already planning bigger things for next year, so be on the look-out!






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