Ray Griswold said he doesn’t join volunteer groups unless he’s sure he can make a full commitment. In the case of Habitat for Humanity, he was hooked right from his initial experience in 1999.
“I went down to work on the first house and had the opportunity to meet the person who was moving in. I can’t describe the light in her eyes, the anticipation — not only for herself but for her family. It was really a life-changing proposition,” said Griswold, a parishioner of St. Joseph Church in Penfield. “I felt I could make a difference for that person.”
Habitat for Humanity has made a difference for countless people since its founding 31 years ago. Not only does the initiative provide safe, affordable homes for people in need, it also brings together entire communities — businesses, civic organizations, schools, churches of various denominations, and so on.
Habitat for Humanity International, a nonprofit, ecumenical Christian housing ministry, was founded in Georgia in 1976 by Millard and Linda Fuller. Beginning in the mid-1980s, Habitat has received major national exposure through the involvement of former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn. According to its Web site, Habitat has built more than 225,000 houses around the world for more than 1 million people.
Habitat groups exist in many counties throughout the Diocese of Rochester and often involve participation from Catholic parishes. For instance, a Habitat group including several members of St. Mary Parish in Honeoye, Ontario County, recently broke ground on a house.
“There is an air of excitement that is palpable and very gratifying,” said Deacon Roger Loomis, one of four St. Mary representatives on the project’s steering committee.
Before construction can begin on a Habitat house, a substantial amount of funds must be secured. Deacon Loomis noted that the Honeoye churches were originally approached by Habitat for Humanity of Ontario County in early 2004; from there a steering committee was formed to find a site and also raise the estimated $60,000 necessary to see the project through. Despite this stiff challenge, Deacon Loomis said the full amount has nearly been raised, and at St. Mary’s “the response was overwhelmingly positive.” He cited the parish’s garage sale as well as a special Habitat raffle which, combined, brought in more than $8,000.
A site in Honeoye was secured in the spring of 2006, and a couple of months later a family was selected — Gail Howard, a single mother, and her daughter, Sarah. The groundbreaking ceremony took place this past May 6 and was attended by Father Richard Shatzel, St. Mary’s pastor, as well as representatives from other area churches and the steering committee. Deacon Loomis noted that June 23-30 has been designated “Blitz Week,” when crews turn out each day. Work will then continue at a typical rate of days per week until the house is completed; Deacon Loomis said the goal is for the Howards to celebrate Thanksgiving in their new home.
Back in Monroe County, Griswold’s Habitat group — working in conjunction with Flower City Habitat for Humanity — began construction this spring on a house on Hoeltzer Street in northeast Rochester. He said the group, which involves approximately 10 churches from Penfield, hopes to bring churches from neighboring towns on board so that houses can be built at a rate of one per year.
Griswold, whose primary role in Habitat is fundraising, said his group comes up with such benefit events as a pie sale, garage sales and a spaghetti dinner to go along with parishioners’ contributions.
These Habitat projects involve many people but do no lose their personal touch. For instance, in Honeoye, Michelle Scialdone of Farmington — a former teacher in diocesan Catholic schools — has been designated as a “family partner” for the Howards to provide them with confidence and support as they adjust to their new environment.
“As one of the steering-committee members said the other day, we set out to build a house and learned so much more in the process about generosity, hope, determination, spirit,” Deacon Loomis said. “Still reflecting on the theme of Pentecost, I have no doubt that it is the Holy Spirit who has guided us all the way.”