Vail Valley Voices: Why Habitat? |

Vail Valley Voices: Why Habitat?

Tom Healy
Vail, CO Colorado

“Can you believe it? When I got to the site, I hardly knew which end of the hammer to hold,” said a new volunteer for Habitat for Humanity. “By the end of the day, my group had put siding on the entire east side of the house. And the best part was that we worked right alongside of the family that would own the home. What a great experience!”

Since its founding in 1976, Habitat for Humanity International has built over 400,000 homes with families in need worldwide. Millions of volunteers have helped in this endeavor. As a result, over 2 million parents and children now have greater security and opportunities in their lives.

Locally, thousands of volunteers have worked with the valley’s Habitat affiliate since its founding in 1995. Together they have built 31 homes, and over 100 children in the area now have better chances in their lives. Currently, we have the capacity to build four homes per year with plans to increase the annual capacity to six.

A volunteer on the Family Selection Committee said, “I always wondered how Habitat families were chosen. What a thorough process! It took us months to pare the dozens of applicants down to four, and many deserving families have to wait until the next round.”

Essentially all new Habitat families have worked in the community for many years but have never had the means to improve their living conditions or qualify for a traditional mortgage. Three basic criteria are used to screen applicants and make the difficult, final choices: degree of need for adequate housing; ability to make a down payment and pay a mortgage; and willingness to partner with Habitat in the construction of their homes by putting in hundreds of “sweat-equity” hours.

Habitat provides a helping hand, rather than a hand-out, to its new families.

One of our Habitat parents felt so empowered and energized after moving into her new home, she decided to go back to school. She will be graduating this May with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education.

Another received a promotion at her previous employer shortly after becoming a homeowner, and recently was hired to a significant position in the county’s Health and Human Services Department.

A third family improved its circumstances to where they were able to move out of their Habitat home into a duplex in the area – with traditional mortgage financing.

And most importantly, perhaps, a recent survey showed that of the 47 school-age children in our area Habitat homes, over 50 percent made the honor roll this year!

Through the Habitat experience, the great majority of families who have been helped have found new meaning and have made positive developments in their lives, as have their children.

“What fun it is to work at the store!” reports a regular volunteer at the Habitat Home Outlet on Chambers Avenue in Eagle. “You get to meet interesting people, and it’s a win-win-win situation.”

Win No. 1: The Outlet staff picks up donated furniture, appliances, other household goods, etc., throughout the valley, keeping over 300 tons of material out of the landfill annually.

Win No. 2: It resells the items at a fraction of the original value, helping many less fortunate families in the valley.

Win No. 3: Proceeds from the store are used directly in the construction of Habitat homes.

Because of the breadth of Habitat’s role as an organization, it must operate like a small business and thus it offers many opportunities for volunteer involvement.

In addition to the Family Selection Committee mentioned above, there are committees that help plan and oversee finance, construction, family support, the Habitat Home Outlet and special events such as The Carpenters Ball – invariably one of the best fundraising parties of the year.

A board of directors, executive director, and experienced staff are directly responsible for carrying out Habitat’s important mission in this area.

Although Habitat for Humanity of Eagle and Lake Counties solves only a modest part of our critical housing need, over the years it has played a prominent role through its active efforts to involve the entire community.

Its slogan, “Communities Building Community,” has emphasized the area-wide challenge and has brought greater awareness to the valley through this linkage.

It has been an honor and a pleasure for me to be a part of Habitat for Humanity for many years, and I encourage anyone who is seeking a meaningful charitable experience to consider joining us.

You can reach Habitat by calling the Avon office at 970-748-6718 or by goin to its website,

Tom Healy was the executive director of Habitat for Humanity for five years, retiring in 2008. Prior to that Tom served on the HFH Board of Directors for three years, and served as President. He continues to assist Habitat as an Ambassador. Tom served as a teacher and development officer at Vail Mountain School for ten years, after moving to Vail with his wife Jane in 1989.

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