by Eric Stearley
Wabash County Habitat for Humanity celebrated the opening of its new office space with an open house May 30. Previously, the organization worked out of an open office at Friends Church, and before that, there was no office in Wabash County. This represents the second major step in the local affiliate’s transition from a volunteer-only model to a full-time, staffed model, the first step of which was the hiring of Executive Director Steve Miller last year.
“It’s been a really smooth transition,” Miller said during the open house.”
Other than a few leaky pipes, the house was in good condition and structurally sound. After receiving some donations in the form of furniture, they did some decorating and made it their own.
“We actually moved in three weeks ago. That’s why its good to have volunteers, because otherwise it would not look like this. We’ve been really blessed in a lot of ways.”
The organization’s new office is a repurposed house located at 375 N Manchester Ave., on the corner of State Street. Two volunteers who helped with the project are interior designers, who Miller said made a huge difference. Terry Echard of Lafayette donated the house to the organization.
“We finalized the donation in November, and we talked about, could we rehab it and turn it into an affordable house for a homeowner, and that didn’t quite work,” said Miller. “And then we talked about, well, we could sell it, and we didn’t like that idea, so could we put our office there, and we talked about it and the key thing was making sure we could utilize the property properly.”
An educational conference room occupies the lower level’s main room. This will be used primarily as a space for homeowner and financial literacy education, as well as the organization’s board meetings. Past that, you can find Miller’s office and a smaller seating area. In the back, you can find a bathroom and a kitchen, which Steve and the volunteers made use of to prepare a few snacks for the open house guests.
In addition, the house has a second story, and the detached garage has an apartment above it. Miller hopes to use the house’s upstairs to house an AmeriCorps volunteer in the future. The apartment above the garage was recently designated as a space for Growing Grounds to house women in need.
“Once we got that finalized, that’s when we kind of pulled the trigger and turned the utilities on,” said Miller. “We’ve got room to grow and add staff.”
Habitat for Humanity is always looking for volunteers to help with upcoming projects. They have two pieces of property in Wabash on which they are looking to build and find homeowners for. Recent changes in mortgage and credit regulations have changed the organization’s homeowner application process substantially, making it more difficult, but may assure long-term affordability. The local affiliate has seen substantial growth in recent years, which is both exciting and challenging.
“The most difficult and challenging stage of growth for a habitat affiliate is the one this affiliate is making right now,” said Miller. “Going from all volunteer to hiring staff, and getting all that stuff in place, and really getting intentional. The board is starting to look strategically at how we’re going to grow, where we’re going to be an asset to the community, and how we’re going to impact, because we’re on the end of the housing continuum, so how are we going to help this community all the way down to the homeless on the street?”
Still, the most important things in making the organization function are the volunteers and supporters.
“A big part of it is the volunteers, and that’s another thing we’re trying to grow is our volunteer connection,” said Miller.
Anyone 16 and older can volunteer at a Habitat for Humanity build site. One thing Miller is currently working on is reaching younger students who are interested in the cause but not yet able to help build houses. One of the way’s he’s getting kids involved this summer is through a “Nickels for Nails” fundraiser. Miller says that the average nail used to build a house costs about five cents.
“This is a way that even little kids, like at vacation bible school, can help out,” said Miller. “They’re going to have a nickel drive.”
Another way the organization is reaching out for support is through their most recent piece of equipment, a playhouse that will be used as a parade float. It was built by the campus chapter before school let out this year.
“[We’re] trying to get the word out, because a lot of people still don’t know we have a Habitat here in Wabash,” said Miller. “Even some that do don’t realize what it is we really do and how we work. We thought, ‘Well, we can’t be at every festival, but we can be in every parade, so we built this little playhouse and it’s going to be in all the county parades.”
Habitat is selling parade float sponsorships to those who would like their company’s name displayed. At the end of the parade season, the playhouse will find a new home, but for now, it sits in front of the new office, making the corner quite recognizable.
As Miller and the board settle into their new location, they are looking forward to their next building project. For more information on the local Habitat for Humanity affiliate, or to inquire about volunteering and/or donations, call Executive Director Steve Miller at 260-563-9188.