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Habitat luncheon attracts volunteers

By Staff | May 26, 2015

It was originally meant as a way to explain their mission, what they do and how they do it.

But the monthly “Habitat 101” luncheons have become a great recruiting tool for volunteers, many of whom have turned the opportunity for a free sandwich and education into a great way to give back to the community.

More than two dozen people filled a room at Habitat for Humanity’s administrative offices on the third Tuesday of the month to learn about Habitat and take a tour around the campus on and about Tamiami Trail.

Becky Sanders-Lucas, Habitat’s director of development, said the luncheon, which is open to the public, doesn’t change much from month to month. Its purpose is to educate people, whether they’ve been involved with Habitat or not.

“Some of the folks have been associated with us for a long time and want a refresher course and others are brand new and want to fit in,” Sanders-Lucas said. “We would love to bring new people in. North Fort Myers is removed from central Lee County, so we appreciate when people come here.”

Volunteers and prospects learned quickly how important Habitat is just by hearing the statistics. Fort Myers/Cape Coral is ranked the second-worst market in the nation for poor families trying to rent a home.

It costs an average of $1,040 per month to rent a two-bedroom home, which has gone up 12.9 percent year over year.

Those who qualify for a Habitat home will pay roughly half that. The problem is that last year 1,122 families applied for the 55 available homes built or restored.

Sanders-Lucas also discussed the history of Habitat, nationally and locally, as well as the goings-on with the local chapter. Of the 55 homes set to be built this year 28 will be newly built, with the rest being refurbished, mainly in Cape Coral.

She also discussed the misconceptions about Habitat, in that they “give away” houses.

“We are a hand up, not a hand out. We go through the selection and mortgage process so people understand who receives homes and pays for them” Sanders-Lucas said.

The event also included a short tour, which included the Restore, one of three Habitat retail stores in Lee County and the prebuild warehouse, where volunteers build walls that are ready to go up when they arrive on-site.

Once back inside, participants had an opportunity to fill out forms if they were interested in volunteering. Sanders-Lucas said more often than not, they seem interested in helping.

“We started doing the lunches in November and we’ve had 150 people attend. Of them, we’ve only had five people not sign up,” Sanders-Lucas said.

Julia Steelman applied to volunteer online and attended her first Habitat event. She said her friend had a daughter who got a Habitat home, so she can see the need.

“I see the benefit. The possibilities of owning a home are impossible otherwise,” Steelman said. “I saw how they did the walls and I’m interested in seeing how that’s done. I’d like to help as long as it’s not roofing.”

Her friend, Michelle Brown, a Realtor, said she didn’t realize how well organized it was.

“I’m looking forward to getting involved. I like to do construction. There are so many retired people here who are able bodied. They can give so much to the community if they were aware of this program.”