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Habitat hammers in its positive message

I was feeling discouraged. A colleague had returned a manuscript I had asked her to review with the words, “Forget it. It won’t get published. It’s too gimmicky. Give it up.”

A week later I sat in a booth at the fair commiserating with Christina Rude, who was shopping around a book to various publishers including Barker Creek Publishing, when she suggested, “Try Sasquatch. They take children’s books.”

Only 10 minutes later, as I left the booth and walked into the sunshine, I ran into the publisher of Barker Creek, who I had discussed my manuscript with years before.

I hadn’t seen her in some time, and yet here she was asking, “Have you done anything with your slug book. You know, Sasquatch is taking children’s books now.”

Odd. The same message from two different people within the same 10 minutes?

Was someone trying to tell me something?

I called Sasquatch as soon as I got home. Incredulous, I made them repeat their message three times, which was, “Actually, we've been looking for a book on slugs.”

I think things happen that way. Sometimes you're being told something and you are not sure why, but it's something you need to know.

It’s not always fun. Sometimes you want to say, “OK God, I could have learned that without you hitting me over the head with a frying pan.” But sometimes that’s what it takes.

Or maybe it takes every single person you meet telling you the very same thing. A couple of months ago that message was “work with Habitat for Humanity.”

Apparently, everyone we met did. Why?

Ah, the answer is more beautiful than you might expect. While everyone knows Habitat for Humanity builds houses, one might not know how multi-layered the ministry that works to move people out of poverty housing is. Or that everyone from the recipients of the houses to the volunteers grows stronger and more confident the more they work.

Or that volunteers always report they receive more than they give.

It stems from encouragement. Habitat abounds with encouragement. When we accepted God’s urging and attended one of the weekly orientations (held every Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at the First Christian Church in Bremerton on the corner of 9th and Veneta) encouragement is what we found.

Reporting the week of spring break, we watched as construction volunteers gently and patiently guided youths from the North Kitsap Baptist Church in lessons on everything from how to hold a hammer to how to make chalk marks and nail on siding.

“The kids are here to give back,” the youth minister told me and smiled, because we both knew that they were getting just as much as they gave -- if not more.

I was reminded of Michael Gurian’s work on the needs of adolescents, where he wrote of how all teens need a loving clan of adults guiding, instructing and holding them to standards.

I listened as the men, most retired, some on breaks from their jobs, let encouragement be their guiding force. Like our friend, Don McGuirk, a retired engineer from church who is helping my son repair our deck, they seem to know exactly the right words to say.

“You sure picked this up fast. You have an innate talent, kid.” It’s as if they're reading straight from the child-rearing books and doing it naturally and instinctively.

Long-time Habitat volunteer Margie Rees had this to say about her fellow South Kitsap Parks and Recreation District board member and friend, Ron Flerx, a site supervisor for Habitat, “He is so incredibly patient with the kids. You should watch him, he is amazing.”

Seconded Habitat Executive Director Lori Oberlander, “Ron is so patient and kind. He is very good at guiding volunteers and shows people how to do things in a way that is respectful and encouraging.”

It may be that he was taught and encouraged by the gentle master instructor himself, Tim Dombkowski, who served Habitat as a construction manager and site supervisor.

“Everyone loved Tim,” Lori recalled. “He loved to help and planned to stay with Habitat, he said, forever." Unfortunately, he had an enlarged heart, which meant we were to lose him early, which was very shocking and hard -- and still is. But in a way it was also fitting, since no one had a "bigger heart" than Tim.

Tim kept encouraging Ron to step into the role of site supervisor, a role Ron wasn’t sure he was ready to take.

“You're ready,” he kept telling Ron. “You can do it.”

When Tim passed away unexpectedly, Ron did step up and took over as the site supervisor for the Habitat house on Montana Avenue in Port Orchard.

“Tim’s death was hard on everyone," Oberlander said, "but Ron got us through it. And he finished the house.”

It’s this commitment that defines Habitat volunteers.

“The volunteers open doors,” said Oberlander. "They get their churches, businesses and civic organizations to sponsor homes (which costs $55,000 to $60,000 for a whole home sponsor) and they find materials and in kind donations all over the place."

For instance, a group of volunteers talked Rinnai Tankless Water Heaters into donating water heaters for all the homes at the New Hope Habitat project in Bremerton.

“Our volunteers are so committed to serving," Oberlander said. "They give so freely. They are unbelievable.”

Volunteers need not know construction when they come to the program. “They learn,” says Lori. “We use every skill they bring to us. You don’t have to pound a nail to build a house.”

Margie Rees and Caroline Blanscet, both long-time volunteers, use their hard-won accounting skills to keep Habitat’s books in perfect shape.

Margie has also serves as a family partner.

“Family partners," Oberlander explained, "are really wonderful, special people who walk with the families through the process and serve as mentor, advocate and friend.”

Another extraordinary volunteer is Bob Holtz, a retired drafting teacher at South Kitsap High School. He was on the steering committee that helped start Habitat for Humanity in South Kitsap, served as board president for years and drew all of the basic plans that are used for their single-family homes.

About other SK Habitat volunteers, Jim Craig and Jim Jacobsen, Oberlander says, “They have hearts of gold.”

Offering layers of encouragement all round, the indomitable Lori adds, “You know, we can really use more SK volunteers. We want to build more houses in Port Orchard. Maybe someone would want to volunteer?”

Someone who hears the message no doubt will.

Mary Colborn is a Port Orchard resident.

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