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Building blitz ends with dedication of four new Habitat for Humanity homes

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Tom Kelly (left), president of the Portland-based Neil Kelly design firm, said the company has been supplying cabinets and volunteers for Habitat for Humanity homes since the mid-1990s. Kellys son, Garret, managed the companys crew during the recent two-week building blitz.

Some people might consider the combination of a full moon and Friday the 13th to be a bad omen.

But thanks to the generosity of residential builders and a boatload of volunteers, the inauspicious occasion is bringing good luck to new local homeowners.

Habitat for Humanity Portland/Metro East is celebrating the end of its two-week Home Builders Blitz today, with a dedication ceremony to present keys to the owners of four new homes in the Centennial neighborhood on Southeast 171st Avenue off Division Street.

This was the second Habitat building blitz at the location and also brings to a close development in the 45-home site. On hand to congratulate the families were Portland Mayor Charlie Hales and the father of Habitat for Humanity’s building blitz concept, North Carolina native Tom Gipson.

The unique alliance between professional home builders and craftspeople to expedite the construction process began in Raleigh, N.C., in 2002. Gipson, a custom home builder in the Raleigh area, had been tied to Habitat for Humanity of Wake County as a volunteer for many years. During a gathering with Habitat staff and volunteers, the notion of building multiple homes in an accelerated period of time, using as many donated supplies as possible, was casually broached.

“I took it seriously,” Gipson said in a phone interview. “I told them I can call a bunch of my guys and challenge them to build 12 houses in a week. We had no idea what we were getting into. Building a home in a week is a challenge, especially when you’re working with custom home builders. But by the end of the week, even though we had some bad weather, we had built 12 homes.”

In addition to the donated materials and labor, the builders raised $100,000 in cash donations. Total cost to Habitat for Humanity of Wake County, outside purchase of the land, was $84,000. The 12 new homes had cost Habitat nothing.

Gipson and his group upped the ante the following year, doubling their efforts by constructing 24 homes in a week.

In 2004, Gipson met with Habitat for Humanity International to explore the possibility of taking the project to the national level. He traveled to 60 cities promoting his idea, and in June 2006, the first nationwide Home Builders Blitz was held. It was the largest single-home building effort in Habitat’s history and provided housing for nearly 2,000 people.

“There were 459 homes built during that first national build in 140 different communities,” Gipson said. “This has been a great experience because it gives these home builders a way to give back to the community in a meaningful way.”

That meaningful contribution is the reason why metro-area businesses such as Fish Construction NW, Parr Lumber and Schumacher Custom Homes, among others, returned for their second East County build this year. The companies donated supplies as well as volunteer labor from their employees and subcontractors. by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Jim (left) and Geoff Shumacher, with Schumacher Custom Homes, coordinate the schedules of various contractors who provide volunteer labor for amenities like plumbing and electrical work. The brothers, who are graduates of Centennial High School, find it rewarding to help low-income families achieve home ownership.

Portland-based Neil Kelly has supported Habitat for Humanity since the mid-1990s, said Tom Kelly, president of the design and remodeling firm. The company began supplying cabinets for Habitat homes in the mid-1990s and has partnered with Parr Lumbar for the building blitzes to provide amenities such as tile and electrical materials.

Two years ago, Neil Kelly put together a catered kickoff party prior to the build, extending invitations to the various companies and contractors, volunteers and soon-to-be homeowners. Since Habitat’s clients often work alongside volunteers as part of their sweat equity commitment, Kelly said it’s satisfying to watch friendships develop.

“What we see a lot of is the families connecting with the workers,” Kelly said. “That connection is pretty remarkable. I’ve been a Habitat supporter for a long time, and I think it’s incredible how this is done.”

Kelly went on to say that the company is never at a loss for volunteers for a Habitat project, and estimates roughly 35-40 of his employees and contracted workers are on site during a build. Kelly’s son, Garret, managed the crew this year. But what Kelly is most proud of is how his company has adapted its design to include cost-cutting measures for families already on tight budgets.

“Why this is so cool is because these families are in the Habitat program because they’re low income,” Kelly said. “This is the second LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified home we’ve built for a Habitat family. It’s very satisfying for us to know they’re getting an energy-efficient home that will save them money.”

Jim and Geoff Schumacher, with the family-owned Schumacher Custom Homes, coordinate an intricate schedule of contractors who arrive in waves to complete everything from electrical work to plumbing. The brothers, who both graduated from Centennial High School, said working on the building blitz is hard work but satisfying, since they know they’re providing shelter to others practically in their own backyard.

“That’s what is so great about this,” Jim said. “We are able to make sure we can help deliver a home the family can afford, and this is an opportunity for them to have some stability. They won’t have to move around anymore. That’s real rewarding.”

How to help

Habitat for Humanity has built or repaired more than 800,000 homes worldwide, providing shelter to nearly 4 million people since its early beginnings. The 3.54- acre site in the Centennial neighborhood has been completely developed to include 45 homes for Habitat clients, via two building blitzes and volunteer efforts. Habitat for Humanity Portland/Metro East has acquired land for 24 homes off Northeast Glisan Street on 165th Avenue, with construction tentatively scheduled to begin in the fall.

Volunteers and donations are always needed. For more information, call Habitat for Humanity Portland/Metro East at 503-287-9529 or visit

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