Habitat For Humanity’s Basalt project is melting pot for volunteers
Volunteers at the Habitat for Humanity Roaring Fork project in Basalt didn’t have to wait until Christmas to learn that it is more blessed to give than to receive.
The Basalt Vista project has been a melting pot for volunteers. Among others, in recent months it has attracted a couple celebrating their wedding anniversary, a family who adds a twist to their Aspen vacations, a longtime valley resident donating his time in retirement, people recovering from addictions at a local treatment center and numerous business staffs engaging in team building.
“We always get volunteers but we’ve never had these numbers,” said Scott Gilbert, president of Habitat’s Roaring Fork chapter. “Habitat has been building homes for 20 years in the valley and this is by far the most robust engagement we have had from the community.”
As of mid-December, 1,456 volunteers had donated 13,579 hours at the housing project since construction started in November 2018, according to Habitat’s records. Gilbert attributes the surge in volunteerism on several factors.
“Who it is for and where it is has changed the paradigm,” he said.
Basalt Vista is a highly visible project on the hillside behind Basalt High School. It has high appeal because teachers and other employees of the Roaring Fork School District have a priority for 15 of the units. The other 12 units are reserved for employees of businesses in Pitkin County.
The project also is a model of collaboration. The school district contributed the land. Pitkin County covered much of the infrastructure cost. Basalt helped cover other expenses. Habitat for Humanity Roaring Fork is the developer and is facilitating access to mortgages and raising funds to cover a financial gap.
The project will be a model for net-zero energy use. There is no gas line running to the 27-unit project. It will be all-electric power and through high-efficiency construction and appliances plus solar photovoltaic power, it will produce as much energy as it consumes.
FAMILIES HELPING FAMILIES
Sometimes, volunteering has special meaning.
Sean Fick and Sheryl Sabandal celebrated their first wedding anniversary by working at Basalt Vista. It was symbolic because they met on a Habitat building project in 2009 while they were seniors at Indiana University. They eventually started dating, moved to the Roaring Fork Valley and got married in 2018.
Fick, 33, is a chairlift mechanic for Aspen Skiing Co. Sabandal, 32, is development director at Roaring Fork Conservancy.
The couple, who live in Snowmass Village, and five friends put in a workday at Basalt Vista on July 27.
“It just seemed right in terms of celebrating the first year,” Fick said.
“It just made sense. It’s such a great cause,” Sabandal added. “There’s no better way to get our friends to volunteer.”
They spent their anniversary applying a house wrap weather-resistant barrier and insulation at Basalt Vista, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“That was sort of the idea, to share with our friends the thing that brought us together,” Fick said.
For Richard Greenberg and his family, volunteering at Habitat for Humanity became a way to give back to a special valley. Richard, a Denver resident, said Aspen is where he was courting the woman who became his wife 39 years ago. His family keeps a close connection to the valley with a second home in Aspen.
His son Daniel Greenberg works as a financial analyst at the University of Colorado Boulder, where employees are encouraged to volunteer for public service. Daniel volunteered at Basalt Vista during a trip to the Roaring Fork Valley in October and asked his dad to join him. They enjoyed the experience so much they made volunteerism a family project.
Richard, his wife, Eileen, their daughter Rachel Greenberg and her husband Ben Beadle-Rydy, along with Daniel spent a day recently volunteering at Basalt Vista. They converged in the Roaring Fork Valley from Colorado’s Front Range and the San Francisco area.
Richard said they like how the project will provide housing for teachers as well as Pitkin County employees. It also attracted their attention that it is in a great location and the project is net-zero.
“It just hits all the marks,” he said.
The family spent their day painting and installing flooring. They plan on volunteering on other trips to the valley. Their commitment to the project extends beyond the sweat off their brows.
Richard said he reported on the experience during a meeting of his family foundation. The board members of the Bender West Foundation voted to make a financial commitment to Habitat for Humanity Roaring Fork for 2019, 2020 and 2021.
NO EXPERIENCE, NO PROBLEM
For some volunteers, regular labor at a Habitat for Humanity project has evolved into part of their routine.
Carrington Brown, 65, retired from Pitkin County government three years ago and volunteered with Habitat before Basalt Vista was underway.
“That was the first thing I did,” he said. He acknowledged that the reason he was inspired almost sounds like a cliche.
“I really believe in giving back to the community and (helping) people who are struggling to get a home.”
Brown has worked at a previous Habitat project in Basalt, three residences in Carbondale and now Basalt Vista. He typically volunteers two or three times per week. It is convenient, he said, because Basalt Vista is only five minutes from his home.
Helping build housing provides a sense of purpose, he said, but he also enjoys meeting other volunteers.
“You meet such interesting people,” he said. “You meet people from all walks of life.”
He recalled performing some grunt work in the rafters of a house with another guy and delving into conversation. His co-worker turned out to be an oil and gas businessman who owned drilling rigs.
Brown’s work in the Roaring Fork Valley has inspired him to apply for volunteer stints with Habitat for Humanity worldwide. He has traveled to work on projects in Vietnam, Jordan and Europe in the past and intends to volunteer for additional projects overseas.
No matter where you go, he said, the reward is the same — the future homeowners are thrilled not only about receiving a home, but that strangers are willing to help build it.
Brown encouraged anyone to volunteer at a Habitat project, regardless of his or her skill level. The Habitat staff on site provides all the guidance necessary.
“I’ve learned a lot from them,” he said.
There are plenty of opportunities to help out. Basalt Vista is in its second phase, with 23 units to fully or partially construct.
Sabandal agreed that lack of experience shouldn’t be a barrier to volunteering with Habitat.
“I think I have more enthusiasm than I have technical skills,” she said.
“It’s a good enthusiasm, though,” her husband added.
Sabandal said she’s learned to be brave on the work sites and turn to the staff for guidance.
“I’ll be scared at first,” she said, “but I will try it.”
She recommended everyone to give it a try.
“It’s really fun. Everybody should do it,” Sabandal said. “And you might meet your future spouse.”