Habitat Lake-Sumter Villagers Club members put construction skills to good use for people in need.
Villager Sally Read felt a strong desire to do something productive and meaningful after her husband died two years ago. She found her calling with Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter Florida.
“I knew that God had a place for me, and Habitat is what it turned out to be,” she says. “I was searching because I didn’t want to sit in my house all the time or just go out with the girls. Habitat was the answer I was looking for.”
Sally bonded with other Villagers who are just as passionate about the nonprofit organization that works in partnership with volunteers and donors to build new, affordable homes for families and individuals who demonstrate a need, and who have the ability to sustain a monthly mortgage payment.
“What I have enjoyed the most is meeting like-minded people, the camaraderie,” says Sally, a Rochester, New York native. “We help each other out. If one person doesn’t know how to do it somebody else pitches in. It’s the feeling of doing it together more than anything. There are a lot of hardworking, talented people in the group. It’s quite amazing.”
The Villages is home to “a lot of people with a construction background,” adds Kevin Tucker, a former Ontario County New York resident who is involved in preservation and repair projects for Habitat.
Kevin formed the Habitat Lake-Sumter Villagers Club in October 2019, serving as president, with Sally as treasurer and membership chair. The group began meeting the second Wednesday of each month at SeaBreeze Recreation Center.
Since the coronavirus prevented Villagers from being able to meet at recreation centers, the club has relied on Zoom meetings.
“It has been a little bit of a deterrent, but we decided a couple months ago we needed to keep the ball rolling,” Kevin says. “We are looking to grow our club and we actually have been charged with building a new home, which we will start in October, and it looks like the house will be built in Fruitland Park.”
Habitat has been following COVID-19 safety guidelines for volunteers on its housing projects.
Starting in October, Kevin and Sally will share club duties as co-presidents of the club that has a membership of 100 (and counting) Villagers.
Kevin got involved with the local Habitat after moving to Lake County four years ago.
“When I was doing new builds or preservation repair, no matter where I was showing up, I was always bumping into a lot of people from The Villages who were also volunteering for Habitat,” says Kevin, recalling that new builds would go on for four to six months, while preservation and repair tasks would be day to day. “I got to meet a lot of Villagers, but I kind of noticed after a year or two I would see some Villagers and then I’d never see them again.”
He wanted to see Habitat volunteers from The Villages more often, and he knew his community was a great source of volunteers for house builds and repair projects.
“I felt we needed a stronger connection with Habitat on a more regular, structured basis so that we could be more productive,” says Kevin.
The group has been productive.
Last December, the group cut lumber for the Jingle Build-Off, where teams representing businesses in the community were in a friendly competition to build and customize playhouses the YMCA, Boys & Girls Club and other organizations gave as Christmas gifts.
“All the playhouses were decorated the way the children wanted them,” says Sally. “Some of them had shingles on it, flower boxes, picnic benches. They were quite amazing. There was an award for the best playhouses, and we will be doing it again.”
Kevin and Sally are also proud their club hosted a huge block party in Wildwood last January, where they worked on 13 different houses all in a week’s time, all on the same street.
“It was absolutely amazing,” says Sally, adding that it felt good to be of service to others. “We were there the entire week and painted houses, did landscaping, and it was a real community project. People set up tables in front of their houses for food and drinks for us. They were very appreciative.”
Kevin adds that the club has worked on new house builds, participated in preservation and repair projects replacing windows, building new wheelchair ramps, repairing decks and painting houses.
“We have done whatever is necessary and have done a little bit of everything throughout 2020,” he says.
The executive staff of Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter praises the dedication and efforts of the Habitat Lake-Sumter Villagers Club.
“No better group exists to lift the banner of socially responsible service than those who volunteer from The Villages Habitat Club,” says Kent Adcock, president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter. “The club is composed of many persons who don’t have to do this; rather they do it because they elect to impart value to people who simply need some support. That is the supreme definition of stewardship. The Villagers club participants are wonderful stewards of their time, talent and treasure.”
Lacie Himes, associate development director for Habitat, adds: “The level of dedication and work ethic this group brings to each and every project is impressive. It’s unique to see a group so fully committed to completing a project and improving the lives of the families who partner with Habitat Lake-Sumter. Each club member goes way beyond the task itself and treats the project as if it were their own home, building or repairing the home with quality work and genuine care.”
She calls the group “an awesome addition” to Habitat’s volunteer and advocacy efforts, and says they raise awareness for Habitat’s mission to build homes, communities, and hope.
“They take action to volunteer their time working on preservation and repair projects, new home construction, and even special events like the upcoming holiday event, Jingle Build-Off,” says Lacie.
The group’s passion, motivation and empathy for those in need “is a testimony to how we are all ‘one community,’” adds Kent. He says the club has been “substantive” in preserving and protecting the housing condition for those with challenges.
The club also has helped homeowners with health and safety risks, including those affected by COVID-19.
“Our seniors and disabled and veteran populations face unprecedented need with housing and The Villages club is helping preserve those who already have housing, but who need a hand up with maintenance needs that surpass their capacity,” says Kent. “I had a homeowner recently that expressed gratitude and even embarrassment, saying they were always on the ‘giving end,’ but that now because of health issues they were on the receiving end and that it was very appreciated and humbling. I shared that sometimes we sow and plant and other times we water and reap the harvest. It takes all of us to make life work sometimes.”
To anyone who believes that Habitat provides support to those who feel entitled, the Habitat CEO says, “To the contrary we see, now more than ever before, that we are serving people who have worked hard, but now, through no fault of their own, due to COVID-19 or a health issue, need someone to help hold them up and provide them with hope and support. Every day there is no more satisfying feeling in the world than providing support for deserving families.”
Habitat Lake-Sumter Villagers Club is open to more members. One has to be a Villages resident to join, and those interested are encouraged to send an email to email@example.com. To learn more about upcoming Habitat projects or volunteer opportunities in general, call Lacie at 352.483.0434 ext. 146.