Habitat for Humanity Choptank Celebrates 30 Years

By Amelia B. Steward, 2022

For George Dappert, of Cordova, volunteering for Habitat for Humanity Choptank has become an important part of his life. He has been a seasonal construction volunteer for the past six years, volunteering his time on job sites, serving as a board member, and as treasurer and chairman of the organization’s Finance Committee.

Asked about his motivation for volunteering, George comments, “Well, I’ve been lucky throughout my life. Part of growing up and paying attention to the world is learning that you’re not the only one and not everyone is lucky. I couldn’t tell you exactly when that light bulb went off. I just realized that a part of living is giving back as well.”

George and his wife have spent four or five months in Florida every year since they retired, but he commits to working on Habitat Choptank’s Tuesday construction crew in Easton for the rest of the year.

“We can use anybody with any level of skill sets. In addition to construction, volunteers can serve on repair crews, in the office, on our operating and program committees, and with site selection. It is a great way to give back,” he adds.

George was an engineer when he graduated from college and eventually moved into corporate finance, going back to graduate school. He quips, “I have been a “Do It Yourself” (DIY) guy at home and helped my brother-in-law and sister-in-law build their house for a little while, gaining some basic skills. But most of what I’ve learned, I’ve learned on the Habitat job site.”

With the DIY craze among homeowners since the pandemic, Habitat Choptank states that volunteers can learn some of these valuable skills on their job sites. These include putting down flooring or putting on siding, repairing a window, or hanging a door.

“These are valuable DIY skills to learn that can save you a fortune,” George adds.

Pre-COVID, Habitat Choptank had 450 volunteers averaging 25,000 volunteer hours a year. Although numbers have been down since then, Volunteer Coordinator Nora Skiver hopes to return to those numbers soon. Nora started volunteering with Habitat Choptank in 2010 and, nine years ago, applied for homeownership and was accepted into the program. She then retired from 44 years of nursing and did 10 months of volunteer service at Habitat Choptank with the Volunteer Maryland AmeriCorps program. At the end of the term, Habitat Choptank hired her as its Volunteer Coordinator.

“I worked alongside those hard-working volunteers and have been in my home for eight years now. To be the recipient of such dedicated volunteers is something that I will never forget,” she comments.

“Volunteers provide a service for the benefit of others and help communities thrive. Their service helps keep the doors open and enables nonprofits to deliver sustainable services and vital programs. They lend their expertise to the board of directors, fundraising, and special events, and provide ‘boots on the ground’ hard work.”

According to Nora, the benefits go beyond those enjoyed by the nonprofit. They extend to the volunteers themselves. She feels that when a person volunteers, they are providing their community with growth, they learn new skills, they meet a diverse group of people, and they develop relationships and friendships. Volunteering promotes a sense of well-being and accomplishment.

“In our case, we have some volunteers that have been with our organization for more than 20 years and some who volunteer over 1,000 hours a year. That is huge!” she adds.

When it comes to construction, volunteers can come to Habitat with no skill sets. Every construction site has a staff member construction supervisor who has long-term experience in the construction trades. Because volunteers work with people who have been doing this for a long time, volunteers report that the new skills are easy to learn.

“Our target for this fiscal year, between July 1, 2022, and June 30, 2023, is to complete and sell 11 homes. We just dedicated our 99th house this past Saturday (July 9), so we are very close to making it to 100 – which is a very big milestone. If you go back a dozen years, we only did two to three houses a year. And now, we’re doing 10 or more a year. The need for affordable housing is just astonishing on the Shore,” George states.

Habitat calls its homeowners partners because the process they choose to engage in is a partnership. It can take from eight months to 24 months for a person to go through the process and buy a house, including the hours of sweat equity each homeowner invests in building his or her own house and the education they receive. Volunteers are an integral part of the process, helping identify sites for houses, selecting families from the applicant pool, serving as financial and personal coaches to families throughout the process, working on construction sites with homeowners, and even volunteering at Habitat’s ReStore on Commerce Drive in Easton. Here, volunteers accept donations, repair, clean, organize and inventory items and goods for resale, and greet and assist customers to enhance their shopping experience.

According to Jenny Schmidt, Development and Communications Manager for Habitat Choptank, businesses, non-profit organizations, churches, and schools are again starting to request to participate in Habitat projects. Among those who recently volunteered are ACE Hardware, Rauch Engineering, Earth Data, Broadneck High School, and The Landon School, to name a few.

“The site builds are great for team building for businesses and groups and it makes them feel good for the work they get done. For the high school groups, they are creating memories and experiences that will last a lifetime,” states Jenny.

The year ahead offers several opportunities for the organization to celebrate its 30th anniversary, including a community build in Easton in the fall, as well as World Habitat Day on October 3, 2022. On that day, affiliates across the country come together and build to raise awareness about the need for safe, affordable housing, which is a global issue.

Habitat for Humanity is a faith-based organization. To date, Habitat Choptank has tithed $960,000 to its partner organizations since its beginning and hopes to reach the $1 million mark in its anniversary year. These global donations represent 10 percent of Habitat Choptank’s unrestricted income. Support goes to houses, water and sewer systems, and infrastructure to make places around the world safe and stable for people to live.

“One of the countries that we tithe to is Guatemala. There’s a very large contingency of Guatemalan immigrants in Easton, especially in the area of The Hill. Although we want to help their home countries, we are aware of the great need here to help those who have relocated here to join family members,” states JoAnn Hansen, Executive Director for Habitat Choptank.

The organization is also planning a large repair day in the spring in Cambridge, partnering with area churches and businesses to repair houses in Cambridge, which has one of the largest numbers of rental properties in the region.

Habitat Choptank homeowner Alicia hugs Scott Baynard, Habitat Choptank Construction Supervisor, as he gives her the keys to her new home. Alicia is the 99th homeowner and celebrated her move-in on July 9 in Cambridge.

Volunteers play an important role in Habitat’s mission to build homes, communities, and hope, while developing lifelong friendships, creating new social groups, and networking in the community. “Our volunteers become a community within a community, and we can’t do what we do without them,” JoAnn reflects.

“For me, the most rewarding moment is when you’re at the home dedication, and you see the new homeowners and their kids and whole extended families. From every nail you hammered to every piece of flooring you put down, it all leads to that moment, and it is a very moving experience,” comments George.

“What’s great about this program is that it’s a hand-up, not a handout. Our mission is to build, repair, and rehab homes in Dorchester and Talbot counties and improve the quality of the communities that we live in. Part of that is giving hope to the folks that we work with. I can tell you that we get at least as much from them as they get from us.”

For information about volunteering at Habitat Choptank, contact Nora Skiver at volunteers@habitatchoptank.org. To streamline its volunteer orientation and make it easy and accessible to become a volunteer, Habitat Choptank has provided information on its website at https://habitatchoptank.org/volunteer/volunteer-orientation. For information about Habitat Choptank, visit habitatchoptank.org.

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