Each year, the Roanoke (Va.) Regional Home Builders Association asks employees of its member companies to donate one dollar that goes toward holiday presents for children age 12 to 16. The Dollar for a Dream program targets kids this age because they are often overlooked by Toys for Tots and other programs.
Though home building activity remains in the doldrums, the association managed to raise three times as much money this year as in previous years. Association leaders gathered earlier this month with $5,000 to buy toys at Walmart, which kicked in a $100 gift card. The association at its annual banquet also collected 900 items for the Toys for Tots program.
Corporate giving to charitable causes may be down in the home building industry this year. But a round-up of high-profile projects shows that lots of great work still got done, often because individuals dug into their own pockets to help the needy as the country struggled with high unemployment, record foreclosures, continued homelessness, and other social ills.
Returning veterans may have been on the receiving end of the highest profile philanthropic efforts this year. Faber Homes, based in Rochester, N.Y., last month gave Sergeant Matt Wido a free home. The married father of two, who did two two tours of duty in Iraq, suffered from traumatic stress disorder, and he can't shed a parasite that threatens his eyesight.
Wido's family was on the brink of bankruptcy when Faber CEO Bernie Iacovangelo heard its story. Iacovangelo got local businesses to donate services, time, and materials to build the Widos a 2,015-square-foot Colonial. At the dedication, Iacovangelo said it was about time the family received a good break, after so many bad ones.
Earlier this year, the HBA of Raleigh-Wake County, N.C., led an effort to build a 1,800-square-foot home for a returning Marine who served three tours of duty in Iraq. U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Stan Roberts was handed the keys to the house--built by Royal Oaks Building Group, LLC, on land donated by Gaines and Company--by the man who saved his life in Iraq. Roberts was living in a cramped apartment after two years of intensive therapy at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Bethesda, Md. He lost his right leg, received injures to his right arm, and suffered a traumatic brain injury after being hit by an improvised exploding device (IED) in Iraq.
Working with Operation: Coming Home, Royal Oaks managed to build the "Hero Home" for less than $5,000, thanks to donations of time and materials from sponsors and supporters. The ranch-style home has accessible doorways and windows and bathrooms, low-profile thresholds, lowered storage spaces, and other touches designed to make Roberts' life at home more comfortable.
2010 was a huge year for builder Dan Wallrath, who five years ago created the Operation Finally Home program. Wallrath, who has completed 10 mortgage-free homes for veterans under the program with another 12 in the works, was selected as one of CNN's Heroes of the Year and celebrated during a Thanksgiving night television special. A custom builder for 30 years, Wallrath created the program after he saw what a friend, whose son was injured in Iraq, went through remodeling his home.
After a builder commits to a project, Wallrath's organization works with suppliers to secure manpower and materials. The group appeared on Extreme Makeover earlier this month, building a 2,900-square-foot home in less than a week for Staff Sergeant Patrick Zeigler, who suffered gunshot wounds to the head and other parts of his body in the Nov. 5, 2009, attack on Fort Hood.
Habitat for Humanity, the industry's biggest charity, sprung into action last January after a magnitude 7.0 earthquake rocked Haiti, destroying nearly 190,000 homes and leaving more than 1.5 million survivors in need of shelter. The organization went to work building hundreds of transitional shelters. It also provided more than 21,000 emergency shelter kits and conducted structural damage assessments.
Habitat served a record 74,960 families around the world during its 2010 fiscal year, through a combination of new construction, rehabilitation, and repairs. Homeowners who receive assistance under Habitat's self-help program must invest hundreds of hours of their own labor in the project. They must also be able to afford a downpayment and make mortgage payments.
HomeAid, a builder-founded organization with local chapters that construct transitional housing for the homeless, completed several major projects in 2010, including a shelter expansion in Northern Virginia. The Atlanta chapter built a 34-bed apartment building and community center on the campus of Light House Village in Conyers, Ga., with help from the Bon Jovi Soul Foundation, which provided a grant to finance construction. Built for $343,000, the complex will provide long-term transitional housing for families, particularly women with children, who are experiencing temporary homelessness. Residents will also receive educational support to rebuild their lives. HomeAid works with builder captains--Manor Homes and Horizon Home Builders on the Conyers project--to build shelters for the temporarily homeless. Builders call on their subs and suppliers to donate labor and building materials.
In June, John and Lisa Fox of FoxBuilt Homes, based in Harrisburg, Pa., traveled to the Dominican Republican to see first hand the impact that small loans, averaging less than $20, can have on small businesses in the poorest parts of the world. Several builders in recent years have dedicated the proceeds from home sales to Homes for Hope, which loans the money to entrepreneurs through Hope International.
The Foxes were so inspired by the trip that they decided to join the program. In September, they presented Homes for Hope with a check for $115,000, which could benefit as many as 6,000 people in countries such as Haiti, Afganistan, and the Congo.
In Ohio, builder Charles Ruma announced plans earlier this month to build a home, auction it for $460,000 this summer, and donate anything above his material costs to the construction of a replacement hospital at James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute at Ohio State University. Ruma is also looking for material donations. Ruma's company, Virginia Homes, is working with a researcher at the Institute to develop a series of healthful features that will be incorporated in the home.
Ruma underwent treatment for testicular cancer in 2006 at the James, which is planning a $1 billion expansion. The hospital hopes to raise $75 million through philanthropy.
Early in the year, the San Diego Building Industry set a goal of building 10 homes through its Baja Challenge program. Every year, volunteers from the association head to Mexico for a blitz build of homes for destitute families in The Colonia Sonora area. Each team of volunteers was responsible for raising $3,900--the cost of building materials used to build one house--and providing a volunteer building crew. An additional $600 can be donated for an outhouse.
The response exceeded expectations, despite escalating newspaper reports of border violence and crossing hassles. The group wound up building 12 houses "The teams really went through a lot this year to help out these families in dire need," says Devin Beale, development manager at Fenway Properties, who helped organization the event. Click here to watch a high-energy video of one group's experience.
Chicago may be one of the hardest hit home building markets in the country, but that didn't stop members of The Home Building Association of Quincy from building a home in four days, selling it at auction, and donating the sales proceeds to local charities such as Habitat for Humanity and Camp Callahan. Many of the materials used to build the 1,218-square-foot home were donated by associates members.
In one of the more creative fundraising efforts last year, the HBA of Greater New Orleans conducted a highly successful shrimp boot raffle. Proceeds from the raffle--tickets were sold online for $5--went to support Louisiana fishermen and other Parish residents who had been hit hard by the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill in the Gulf. The event, run in conjunction with a Catholic charity, took place during the HBA's annual home and garden show.
A variety of celebrities--including the football Mannings--authographed the shrimp boots, which were also decorated by local artists. "Patricia Clarkson, the Oscar-nominated actress from The Green Mile was kind enough to decorate a boot for us, stuffed with dvd's from her movies," says Jon Luther, executive vice president. Accountants were tallying the results as this story went to press.