Habitat eyes major change
By ANDREW MCGINN
You can put fresh paint on a house, put new siding on a house, install new gutters on a house or repair a warped deck on a house, but that still doesn’t guarantee it will feel like home.
Heart of Iowa Habitat for Humanity is exploring a major change to its Helping Hands home repair program — a program that developed in Greene County in the mid-1990s and went on to serve as a model for Habitat affiliates around the globe.
Repairs will no longer be limited to only the exterior of a house.
“There’s a lot of older folks who want to retain their independence by living in their homes,” said Jeff Lamoureux, of Jefferson, associate director of the Habitat affiliate serving Boone, Greene and Guthrie counties.
Heart of Iowa Habitat for Humanity now stands at the ready to install railings, handicapped toilets and more in order for people to “age in place,” a concept that has been gaining momentum.
“This is something we can do, and should do,” Lamoureux said.
But that decision wasn’t made lightly.
“We’ve always been reluctant to have volunteers go inside homes for a number of reasons,” he explained.
That reluctance was cast aside once and for all this past winter when a man north of Scranton with mobility issues asked if they ever did interior work.
They found their pilot project.
Volunteers from Heart of Iowa Habitat for Humanity went to work installing railings for him inside his two-story house.
“If we can help people, and the need is there, we should do it,” Lamoureux said.
Habitat — a Christian organization founded on the belief that all people deserve a decent place to live — is known nationally for building houses from the ground up for families in need.
Locally, Habitat might be more synonymous with repairing houses.
Helping Hands was initially a project of Greene County pastors to assist low-income homeowners with house repairs.
By 2007, a local Habitat affiliate had formed out of those efforts.
Habitat affiliates worldwide liked the idea so much that they added repair programs as well.
“The Helping Hands model has been exterior only,” said Lamoureux, who joined the local affiliate as associate director in 2015.
Volunteers last summer completed four Helping Hands projects throughout Greene County.
However, nationally, the model is evolving — and Heart of Iowa Habitat for Humanity is prepared to evolve along with it.
Nationally, Habitat began developing ways back in 2013 to help older homeowners age in place.
Heart of Iowa Habitat for Humanity had plans to build a new house in Greene County this year, but the organization was unable to find a partner family.
It would have been Habitat’s first complete build in Greene County since volunteers constructed a new house on Grimmell Road in Jefferson in 2009.
“It was going to be a monumental effort,” Lamoureux said.
Instead, local volunteers will spend the summer doing what they do best — acting as helping hands, only now inside as well as out.
Whether building a new house or fixing an older one, the concept is the same.
“We’re helping those who really want to help themselves,” Lamoureux said.
To ensure that the help remains a hand up, not a hand out, homeowners are still expected to put in some of their own sweat equity, according to Lamoureux.
For older homeowners, baking cookies for the crew would suffice.
“We’re pretty accommodating,” Lamoureux explained, “how you get your sweat equity hours.”
If you have interior home needs, email Lamoureux at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the Jefferson office at 515-386-3093.