Mara Grisham a different kind of builder
by KATIE RINAUDO Volunteer Development VISTA
Mar 10, 2014 | 1093 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
MARA GRISHAM, who chairs the Family Advocacy Committee, presents a gift during a Habitat home dedication in Cleveland.
Contributed photo
MARA GRISHAM, who chairs the Family Advocacy Committee, presents a gift during a Habitat home dedication in Cleveland. Contributed photo
Mara Grisham has been a resident of Cleveland for more than three decades. In 1991, her church, the Christian Church Disciples of Christ, did a statewide service project with Habitat for Humanity.

“I enjoyed it so much I stayed!” Grisham exclaimed.

Habitat for Humanity of Cleveland Inc. is a nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating poverty and homelessness. Since the group’s establishment in 1991, Habitat has worked in partnership with low-income, working families, churches, sponsors and communities to build decent, affordable housing.

As a stay-at-home mom of two young boys, Grisham tried volunteering on the construction site, but eventually found she loved working with the families.

“I’m not a carpenter,” she said with a laugh. “What I do know, I’ve learned at Habitat!”

Currently, Grisham is the chair of the Family Advocate Committee, a group of volunteers that works directly with families that have been approved for the program. Each of the committee members partners with a family, meets with them, talks to them on the phone regularly and is available to answer any questions. The committee has two members who are actually Habitat homeowners themselves.

According to Habitat Executive Director Matt Carlson, Grisham has been critical in helping Habitat’s families succeed.

“She has led the Family Advocacy Committee for many years and has done a fabulous job,” he said. “She and her team, working with families and helping them through the program, have been a blessing in many different ways.”

Sadly, one committee member just moved out of state, so the Family Advocate Committee is down to six members and is looking for at least three more volunteers. Habitat also has several other committees that involve volunteers, including the Family Selection Committee, the Safety Committee and the Resource Development Committee.

“A lot of people ... when they think of Habitat, they think of building,” Grisham said. “So [committees are] a wonderful way … to volunteer, especially for those that cannot do construction.”

Grisham not only serves on the Family Advocate Committee, she is also a member of the board of directors.

“Mara has been a steadfast supporter for Habitat over many, many years,” Carlson said. “She’s been … very valuable on the board.”

Currently, there are only five women on the board out of 26 members.

“The reason I like being on the board is because we need women!” Grisham said with a grin. “Even when I was not on the board, I went to board meetings to represent our families.”

She pointed out she loves seeing the growth that families go through as they become homeowners.

“You just sort of get hooked because you can see a big difference, not only with the parents but with the children,” she said.

Grisham added, “It makes a difference to have a house. To have an actual home … it’s just a wonderful thing for families.”

Families in need of decent shelter may apply to the local Habitat affiliate. Throughout the process, homeowners must take certain classes and also invest hundreds of hours of their own labor, called “sweat equity,” 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.

Those interested in volunteering for Habitat for Humanity should call the organization’s Volunteer Services Department at 473-4610, ext. 202, or sign up online at