Dave, who retired from Bowater Newsprint Calhoun Operations seven years ago, found Habitat for Humanity of Cleveland through a neighbor’s email invitation. The neighbor asked for volunteers to help with demolition at a local apartment complex.
“I was looking for something to do because I can’t just sit around the house and do nothing,” Dave recalled. “I thought, ‘I’m good at breaking things up, so I’ll try that.’”
He liked it so much, he returned to Habitat, this time to help build houses instead.
Habitat for Humanity of Cleveland is a nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating poverty and homelessness. Since the affiliate’s establishment in 1991, Habitat has worked in partnership with low-income working families, churches, sponsors and communities to build decent, affordable housing.
Looking back to that first day of his Habitat volunteerism, Dave offered with a smile, “I knew how a hammer worked. That’s about all. But the other guys at the job site were so friendly and so understanding, and so willing to teach and help develop, me that I felt comfortable right away.”
After seeing how much fun her husband was having building houses, Debbie, a retired teacher, decided to come along. Thinking the
hard, dirty work would drive her away, Dave was surprised when, day after day, his wife chose to come back.
“I asked her, ‘Why did you come out that second day?’” he said with a laugh. “She said, ‘I’ve always wanted to work with those power tools!’ And I said, ‘Oh, man! There’s a monster about to be created!’”
Seven years later, the couple is more involved than ever. The construction crew goes out on-site each Tuesday and Thursday all day, in all kinds of weather. The group has become like a family.
“It’s an amazing group to be associated with,” Dave said. “We push and pull at each other, but in reality we’re a group of good friends. That’s part of the reason I go back. You work in the rain. You work in the cold, and in the mud, and then you come back tomorrow and you do it again. You don’t want to let your friends down. You don’t want your friends to be working double-hard because you’re not there.”
Debbie added with a huge grin, “They love it when I come because I’m the painter. They hate to paint, and I LOVE to paint!”
Not only does the couple work on the construction site, they also volunteer at the Habitat ReStore. Habitat of Cleveland has two ReStores in Bradley County, one at 300 Grove Ave. SW and one at 4605 North Lee Highway. The ReStores accept donations from businesses and individuals of new and gently used items ranging from clothing to appliances to building materials. The items in the ReStores are for sale to the public, and all profits from the ReStores go directly to Habitat of Cleveland to build homes for qualified families in Bradley County.
Debbie takes care of all the holiday donations that come into the ReStore. Year-round, the Habitat ReStore staff sets aside items themed for Christmas, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, Easter and other holidays. Debbie sorts, cleans and fixes the items, and then prices and labels them so they can be pulled out and displayed on ReStore shelves at the appropriate times of year. At Christmastime, she even throws a “Christmas Tree Decorating Party” to get the store ready for the winter holidays. Her dedication has earned her the nickname, “The Christmas Lady.”
Tammy Johnson, Habitat’s resource development director, notes just how important that job is to the affiliate.
“When the ReStores can count on [having] decorations to sell all throughout the year ... as a staff member, knowing that’s completely taken care of, it just relieves the pressure,” Johnson pointed out.
“Depending on the time of the year, I’m here every day, or I’m here once a week or once every two weeks,” Debbie explained. “Between the two [construction site and ReStore volunteering jobs], we’re very busy, and because we believe so thoroughly in the mission, that’s fine for us.”
She added, “We’re not working at Habitat to pay the mortgage. We’re working because that’s what we want to do.”
Families in need of decent shelter apply to local Habitat affiliates. Throughout the process, homeowners must take certain classes and also invest hundreds of hours of their own labor, called “Sweat Equity” by the nonprofit, into building Habitat houses and working in various support areas. After receiving their home, each family repays on a low-cost, zero-interest loan. The homeowners' monthly mortgage payments are based on income and are used to build still more Habitat houses.
“Dave and Debbie have a really good understanding of the big picture of Habitat,” Johnson said. “You have to have sponsors to build homes. You have to have families to build homes. You have to have income. You have to have volunteers. You have to have materials. You have to have staff. [Dave and Debbie Flower] have really become advocates to help continue to build the strength of Habitat and the vision of everybody working together for a common goal.”
Highlighting the couple’s hard work and dedication, this year’s two “Habitat Hero Awards” were presented to the Flowers at Habitat’s fall home dedication. The couple was surprised and grateful, though quick to explain that they do not do what they do to be recognized.
What excites him most, Dave explained, is the impact on the homeowners’ children as they watch their parents work toward a better future for the family.
“The kids say, ‘I can do that! I want to be a part of that!’” Dave cited. “And now you’ve changed generations.”
Volunteers are the foundation of Habitat for Humanity. Those interested in volunteering for the local Habitat affiliate should call the nonprofit’s Volunteer Services Department at 473-4610 ext. 202, or sign up online at www.habitatofcleveland.org/volunteer.