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Building a Better Future

by Chelsea Cliff
June 20, 2016


Stock photo sunlight through building structure 


Since 1976 Habitat for Humanity (Habitat) has been changing what the word, “home”, means for many families around the world. While many of us have heard of this nonprofit organization, there’s much more that goes into the construction and completion of a new house than many realize!  Since its inception, Habitat has helped 6.8 million people find the true meaning of home by providing affordable housing for those that need it most.

Barry Irish, Sterling State Bank’s President of our Austin, MN office, has been involved with the Freeborn & Mower County Habitat since 2003. “Originally I thought, ‘hey I can improve upon my carpentry skills and help out the community, I donate my time and get to learn in the process.’ Turns out I have better expertise behind a desk than with a hammer!  As a result, I ended up serving as a board member and assisting with the financial components that support Habitat’s mission. I didn’t work on any carpentry, but I have learned plenty along the way.”

Bringing people together to build homes, communities and hope is this organization’s mission and they do it in many ways. The Freeborn & Mower County Habitat has expanded their services to offer the “Brush with Kindness” program, which provides general maintenance, and home updates – for example a handicap ramp addition or new roofing. Since Habitat for Humanity in Austin, MN typically builds one house per year, this is another way to help people in need care for their home.

“We help 20-30 people a year through this program plus we have a ReStore location near the bank where community members bring much more than just construction materials, they bring furniture, home décor, and exercise equipment too,” Barry explained. ReStore is a newer extension of Habitat, which is a nonprofit home improvement store and donation center. These stores are owned and operated independently by local Habitat for Humanity organizations.

Sterling State Bank Compliance Officer, Adam Fuchsteiner is also involved with Habitat for Humanity. He joined the Rochester, MN chapter in the Spring of 2015.

“I was looking to get more involved in the community and always had an interest in both real estate and helping others, this organization does both, making it a great fit,” Adam said.

He is also a member of the Family Selection Committee for Habitat. Adam explained that it takes about a year to build a home once the family is selected. The committee accepts applications 1–2 times per year. In the Rochester area there are as many as 50 applications during the acceptance period. Once the committee narrows down the applicants they conduct in-home visits.

“I really like this part of the process, to be able to see the families that we are potentially going to build a home for and spending time with them, figuring out how we can give them the support to better their lives,” Adam stated.

Barry agrees that supporting Habitat’s mission is a memorable experience.  “At the home dedications, it’s amazing to see the kids running through the house, picking out their rooms. You can tell the family is so grateful and excited that they have a place to call home.”

The journey to the finished product is a complex one, with obstacles along the way such as organizing the labor or language barriers. “We are always looking for volunteers and keeping track of finances, which can be stressful,” Barry states.

Adam explains that communication is key to a smooth process and when working with immigrant families, differing languages can make planning difficult.

The Austin chapter recently partnered with Riverland College construction students to improve the labor process and to provide students with a service learning opportunity.

Another way to improve community development would be, “an organization or program that helps immigrants navigate American culture and achieving self-sufficiency. When people feel comfortable socially and economically, along with a decent place to live, they are more likely to make a positive impact in their community”, specified Adam.

“I think it’s important to teach people maintenance of their home, it gets them more involved with their neighborhood and community,” described Barry. The mission of Habitat comes full circle, as the families selected agree to work alongside volunteers on the construction of their house. Sweat equity is the term for this, once the house is built it is bought by the family. The cost is greatly reduced because the labor is donated by Habitat for Humanity.

This program does more than just reduce costs; it gives a family a fresh start. Many of the applicants’ current housing situations do not have enough space and are rundown before they move into a home built by Habitat. A clean, safe place to seek refuge gives a person the chance to move out of survival mode and into success mode. Mary Zar’s story describes this new beginning so well, and how it impacted her future in an amazing way.

If you’re interested in volunteering in the Rochester, Austin, or Twin Cities area apply online or by form, and be a part of many inspiring stories in your community.

Both Barry and Adam appreciate all that Sterling State Bank does to make their participation in Habitat for Humanity possible.

“Not only do they make donations to the cause but they donate my time, to be a part of dedications and events plus they provide the space for meetings to take place. I appreciate it and I don’t get to say it enough. The bank deserves credit for many things over the years,” Barry stated.

Changing lives for the better, through affordable housing is what Habitat promises to deliver, and it truly does.