Hammering, Sawing For Humanity

Volunteers work on a Lihu‘e home. Photo from Anne Dimock

Building affordable homes for those who are less fortunate is the foundation of what Stephen Spears and Anne Dimock do at Kaua’i Habitat for Humanity.

“I’ve always had a place in my heart for anti-poverty programs, and that’s essentially what Habitat is,” says Dimock, who serves as the organization’s development director. “We provide an opportunity for people to make investments in their lives through their own effort and choices.”

The nonprofit was started in 1992 in the wake of Hurricane ‘Iniki and has since built 106 affordable homes for lowto moderate-income families.

Currently, Kaua’i Habitat for Humanity is developing 24 acres of land in Ele’ele to build 107 more homes. The first phase with 18 houses is already complete.

The real effort, however, is made by the homeowners and volunteers.

“My biggest attraction to Habitat has always been the empowerment,” says executive director Spears. “We are not building houses for Habitat families, we just offer them capital and resources and the knowledge to know how to build. They’re the ones who have to do it.”

“It is the homeowners who are the agents of their own success,” agrees Dimock.

“We’re finding them ways to give them the opportunity … but they get there through their own choices, their own hard work and participation.”

While friends and family of the homeowners are the primary volunteers, they also receive aid from some 200 volunteers who travel from the Mainland to help build homes on Kaua’i every year.

“The amount of money we save with volunteer help we have the lowest cost-per-square-foot construction is mostly because of volunteers,” says Dimock.

Anne Dimock and Stephen Spears. Coco Zickos photo

These volunteers are part of Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village. They visit the island for about a week and put in at least five days of work. They not only pay their own airfare and accommodations, they also leave a donation and work for free.

“They are essentially service vacationers,” says Dimock.

Local businesses such as Da Imu Hut and Hanalima Bakery also pitch in while the Mainland volunteers are in town by offering discounts on products.

“It’s a nice thing that happens,” says Dimock.

A heartwarming Kaua’iMainland dynamic is exhibited when Global Village volunteer groups come approximately 10 times a year.

“Here we have the opportunity to introduce people to the community, who are attracted to come here by the nature of the service,” says Dimock. “They work alongside the homeowners and get to see a different slice of Kaua’i than they would have if they were just coming over as a tourist. This is a really nice way for these vacationers and our local community to get together, and it’s another way that our local community, who’s had a hard time in this recession, can support us by offering really attractive discounts.”

It also bridges the gap between different economic and social scales, says Spears.

“You get all the benefits of that; you get education in that area and it manifests in all kinds of ways,” he says.

A new program, Repair and Renovation, is another way the organization can assist those who are less fortunate. Homeowners with houses that are in “gross disrepair” and can’t afford to fix them now have an opportunity to receive aid.

“One of the things we’ve seen here is, in addition to building new housing stock which is still important we can have a really valuable impact on the island by repairing old housing stock so that it doesn’t become uninhabitable,” says Dimock.

The program has gained a lot of interest since its inception last fall by helping twice-wounded World War II veteran J.Q. Smith, 85, build a new roof for his home.

“When we talk about it in the community, people just love this idea,” says Dimock regarding the new program. “Everybody knows somebody … who has a home that could be redeemed.”

There are some 26 homeowners currently in the process of submitting applications for repairs, and some 1,600 families on Kaua’i who are registered and interested in building new homes.

The need for affordable housing is apparent.

“When we can give someone the opportunity to invest in their future and their kids’ future by getting into homeownership as opposed to continual rentals, a lot of good things can get happening in their lives and in their neighborhood community,” says Dimock.

For more information, call volunteer coordinator Robin Mazor at 335-0296, ext. 152 or visit kauaihabitat.org.