Any organization that continues to thrive after nearly 100 years of service to their community has earned the right to be called a fixture of that community. However, First National Bank of Mount Dora has also earned the right to be called a “member” of our community, a distinction clearly defined by their engagement in philanthropic endeavors and their eagerness to serve the area’s residents well beyond the walls of the banks they operate throughout the Golden Triangle.
First National Bank of Mount Dora is building upon their legacy of giving back to the community by sponsoring the construction of a new home to be built for a family in Eustis, FL. In addition, they have graciously agreed to be Habitat for Humanity’s Holiday Match Partner, matching any donations given to Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter between December 3rd and December 31st, up to $75,000.
The bank’s President, CEO and Vice Chair of the Board, Bob White, says the bank’s commitment to the community is part of their identity, having never strayed from the vision of their founders to remain an independent community bank. “We work and live in Mount Dora and the Golden Triangle area,” says White. “And we are pleased to be able to support our community in many ways, through the participation of our board and our employees.”
As it has been since the beginning, the board, management, and staff of The First National Bank of Mount Dora are members of the community, and the bank continues to be locally owned and operated. Now in its fourth generation of leadership, the executive team at First National grew up in the bank. White himself was born in Eustis and attended school in Mount Dora. And, as is the case with First National Bank, it’s often seen that organizations with a foundational connection to the community are among the first to give back when called upon to do so.
White noted the bank has been deeply involved in the community since the very beginning. “Employees have served on numerous boards and organizations including local Chambers of Commerce, Hospital boards and committees, Community Redevelopment agencies, Junior Achievement and the list goes on,” said White. “Donations have been as much in time and hours as monetary. That involvement is something we find extremely important.”
In addition to sponsoring a home and their generous financial support during the Holiday Match program, First National Bank of Mount Dora has signed on to participate in Habitat for Humanity’s first annual Jingle Build-Off on December 7th. This friendly competition challenges teams to build a custom playhouse based on the interests of the child assigned to their team. “We have a great group of employees that are excited about being able to provide a child with a playhouse,” says White, who also shared that the bank expects to have more than 75 volunteers signed up to help build the home in Eustis during 2020.
White says he and the rest of the bank’s leadership team has always been proud of the level of participation of their employees. “Community involvement is encouraged, and we believe it’s something that comes naturally in great employees which in-turn translates into a great banking experience and a great bank.”
Through the generosity of the bank, its employees and those that participate in the Holiday Match program, Habitat for Humanity will be able to share the gift of home ownership with another deserving family in our community. Sponsors like First National Bank of Mount Dora not only make an impact on their own, but they encourage and enhance the impact of so many others and for that we are thankful to have them as a both a fixture and member of our community.
Double your holiday donation to Habitat for Humanity by clicking here and entering “Holiday Match” in the comments section.
The morning of November 22nd, 2019 marked the dedication of the first Habitat house completed by The Inmate Construction Academy. A crowd of family members, inmates, and others from the community gathered to celebrate the dedication of the Santiago-Lozada family and their new home. As Sheriff Grinnell handed the key to their home, sweet tears of joy fell as the crowd’s applause filled the air. This was a very special moment for the Santiago-Lozado family and all who were involved in its creation. The completion of this home also marks the close to the first year of the Inmate Construction Academy.
Back in 2017, when Hurricane Marie struck the island of Puerto Rico, the Santiago-Lozada family was one of many who lost their homes. Two years later, the Santiago-Lozada’s have been given a fresh start; a new home, one where their young son can grow up and they can begin to re-build their lives. In closing this first chapter to the Inmate Construction Academy, the program’s goal was to mirror the fresh beginning given to the new homeowners and symbolize a chance for inmates from the Lake County Sheriff’s Office to begin re-building their lives as well.
One of the things that makes this home so special, aside from the journey of the homeowner, is the hardworking people who volunteered their time to make it happen. The majority of this home’s construction, and the record time in which it was built, is an accreditation to the Inmate Construction Academy; a partnership between Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter, the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, and community support. Under the direction of Construction Leader, Ernie Burley, and Master Deputy, Dave Wolniak, the home was completed in less than 5 months.
Deputy Wolniak describes the goal of the Inmate Construction Academy as a means to help inmates gain experience to carry into their lives post-sentence and as Wolniak says “to keep going in a good direction.”
Deputy Wolniak says the endeavor has been great for the inmates that built this home, saying “a lot of inmates are grateful for the knowledge and experience they’ve gained” and he looks forward to replicating a new home build with the partnership of Habitat Lake-Sumter in the near future.
Thank you to Sheriff Grinnell and the Lake County Sheriff’s Office for partnering with Habitat Lake-Sumter to build homes, communities, and hope.
Maybe you’ve heard this one before, “December is the season of giving!”
But after sharing in the thanksgiving season with friends and family, we start to turn our gratitude outwards. There are many ways to give; time and money, talent and resources; and one of the most meaningful ways to give during this time of year is volunteering!
We are so grateful for the many volunteers who partner with Habitat Lake-Sumter during the holiday season and throughout the year. If you’re thinking about giving back to your community, now is a good time to meet Pamela and hear why she volunteers with us.
Pamela Chase is a volunteer at heart and is one of many committed volunteers based out of our Eustis ReStore. Pamela is committed to making a contribution to the community on a weekly basis.
Initially getting involved through the help of her partner who works at Habitat’s Eustis Restore, Pamela has been volunteering her time for about two months. Volunteering at the Eustis ReStore two to three times a week, Pamela’s main duty is sorting and organizing various types of clothing and donations brought in by the community.
Prior to volunteering with Habitat Lake-Sumter, Pamela often volunteered with organizations and shelters whose focus was animal cruelty prevention. Here, Pamela was able to work with dogs, walking them, showering them with affection, and preparing them for adoption. Unfortunately, as the physical demands of caring for animals became too much, Pamela had to step down from her responsibilities. Pamela has handled physical setbacks and health concerns but that has not held her back from taking the time to volunteer.
Here at Habitat’s Restore, Pamela is once again able to donate her time and share her commitment to community. When asked why she volunteers, Pamela says “The people at the Eustis Restore are fantastic, fun to work with, and volunteering in general is a great way to get out of the house. It really helps to boost my self-esteem to be able to get out and make a difference.”
Interested in volunteering with Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter? Contact our Director of Volunteer Services, Carlos, at (352) 483-0434 x 119 or Carlos@HabitatLS.org
After touring the home she and her family were presented Friday, Lorie Lozada said: “We have two beds and TVs but we need sofas and a dining table, things like that. But that’s OK, little by little we’ll get what we need. The house is the important thing.”
EUSTIS – Around this time last year, James Santiago, his wife Lorie Lozada and their now 8-year-old son Jianluc Santiago were pondering a move from Puerto Rico to Florida after losing their home and possessions to Hurricane Maria. They had no idea where they would be living or what was in store for them.
On Friday morning however, they received keys to their very own home in Eustis, built just for them by Habitat for Humanity and other organizations, including the Ohlsson Charitable Trust, the Women Builders and the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, who all came together for the cause.
“We are emotional and so excited,” Lozada said. “We just feel so incredibly lucky,”
The family had first been living in a hotel, and then in a nearby apartment.
“It’s a beautiful house and I feel so happy and grateful,” Santiago said.
Friends and family of the recipients, volunteers and members of all the participating organizations were invited to a “Welcome Home” dedication ceremony in front of the 3-bedroom, 2-bath home on Friday morning.
Habitat’s CEO Kent Adcock said for him, helping the family was especially meaningful because his own parents were victims to the wrath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and lost their home because of it.
“I know what they are feeling; what they are going through,” Adcock said at the dedication.
Through the building process, the house served to help many others along the way.
Lake Tech’s Laurie Bryant of the Women Builder’s “Hammer Knocker” team, said she was able to learn about what goes into building a home from scratch and found it very fulfilling.
Bryant and her team members on Friday, presented the family with a bible and a tool kit after they were presented with a flag by Ron Grove of the Sons of the American Revolution.
“I am honored that we were able to help build this house,” Bryant said.
The construction trade programs in our local high schools and technical schools are exploding with student growth and interest as young people are realizing that college is not for everyone and great career opportunities exist with construction-related skillsets. The writing is on the wall as technology will eliminate millions of jobs in manufacturing, retail and service-related industries over the next decade. Good college degree jobs in offices that exist today will be gone tomorrow — just ask people in the banking industry. Young people are seeing the future clearly and understand career paths are changing.
There are now construction academies in Lake and Sumter Counties — at Leesburg High School, Eustis High School, South Lake High School and The Villages Charter High School. There are over 300 students enrolled in these programs, and two of these academies (Leesburg and The Villages) are building homes for Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter.
Lake Tech is growing each semester with technical training in construction-related fields, and they are seeing continued growth in students and industry needs. Apprenticeship programs are springing up throughout Central Florida with groups like iBuild Central Florida laying the foundation for huge growth in training.
For any young person who is undecided whether to pursue a career in the construction trades or go to college, allow me to make the case for pursuing a career in the construction trades.
• Most skilled craftspeople earn more than most people who have a college degree. Even entry-level workers in the construction industry have an opportunity to earn more than most liberal arts majors leaving a university. Master craftspeople can easily earn more than those who have a Ph.D.
• Once you become a skilled craftsperson and you have your own tools, you become recession proof. Sure, the economy could falter and building slow down again. However, skilled craftspeople can always find work doing repairs for homeowners and businesses. If you have the skills, tools and ambition — you can always find work to put food on the table.
• No student debt is required. The high school construction academies are free, Lake Tech is stunningly affordable and many companies offer scholarships for training. There is over $1.5 trillion in student loan debt, which will bury a generation. The tradespeople will be the ones buying homes and fixing them up in the future because they will make more money and have less debt.
Board Member Spotlight
Monic Wofford, CSP
Chief Executive Officer | President | Founder
Contagious Companies, Inc.
From fond memories to a sense of moral responsibility, one of Habitat for Humanity’s newest board members, Monica Wofford, appreciates both the joy and necessity of giving back.
Wofford recounted her earliest connections to the mission of Habitat which can be found in the walls of homes that have stood for decades. “Mind you, I must have been five or six at the time of those builds as those homes are now close to twenty years old,” says Wofford who’s grateful for the opportunity to return to Habitat in a leadership role.
The lasting impact of those early builds, the enduring nature of the structures she helped to build at that early age, exemplify the reasons she has again chosen to share her talents with Habitat. “Habitat for Humanity provides the structure that surrounds the family,” says Wofford. “Call it a house or home or dwelling, with that in place, there is greater potential for a family not to worry about the basics and to be able to focus on not only being a responsible member of a community, but on helping others.”
Wofford says that the cyclical nature of giving promoted by Habitat is what motivates her to contribute her time, resources and energy to the organization. As she puts it, “providing a family or veteran with a home to call their own, solves not only one of their greatest needs, but fulfills the needs of those who wish to give back with their hands and with service.” And with that “foundation,” Wofford believes Habitat’s homeowners are better positioned to pay-it-forward, creating exponential value as they “give or do for others in the community.”
In addition to her role with Habitat for Humanity, Wofford shares her time and expertise with The United Way, as well as the Lake County Republican Executive Committee, where she serves as Secretary. She says that her ability to work with non-profits in this capacity has ebbed and flowed with the seasonality of her own life and career and feels fortunate to now have time again to be involved with nonprofits that share her values of service to the community.
“There have been times in my life when I served on as many as five boards simultaneously. There have also been times when I have found the need to focus almost solely on building or growing my business and spending time with my family,” says Wofford who went on to note that she finds her service to the community comes from a combined sense of obligation and passion which she aptly describes as a “labor-of-love.”
The business Wofford has spent time building is the Contagious Companies, Inc. where she holds the titles of CEO, President and Founder. Wofford says she has had the privilege of professionally speaking to audiences, writing books, and training adults, and consulting leaders across various industries from healthcare and government agencies to tech and entertainment.
Danielle Stroud, Director of Development at Habitat for Humanity, says Habitat for Humanity is extremely fortunate to have added Monica Wofford to the organization. “She brings a combination of enthusiasm, experience and leadership that is extremely valuable on its own,” says Stroud. “But her ability to elevate the conversation and the talents of those around her is immeasurable for an organization with an already exceptionally strong board of directors.”
Wofford says she’s looking forward to sharing the skills she’s acquired and developed as she built and led her company and is excited to learn new skills by serving Habitat for Humanity and working closely with the other talented staff and board members that serve the organization. “Our goals as an organization are exciting and our leadership is certainly doing a masterful job in both running and growing the results of every board and team members’ efforts,” says Wofford.
“We share Monica’s sentiment that working with, and for, Habitat is both a labor-of-love and an opportunity to satisfy a moral responsibility to the communities we live and work in,” says Stroud. “We’re excited to tap into that passion and look forward to helping Monica create even more fond memories of working with Habitat for Humanity!”
By David Larrick
“We looked out the window and watched our walls tumbling down our stairs,” says Lorie Lozada.
Lozada, originally from New York, watched in horror with her family as their house was torn apart in front of their eyes as Hurricane Maria, a category 5 storm, ravaged Puerto Rico in the fall of 2017.
“After my father passed away in ‘96, my mom moved back Puerto Rico to be closer to family” says Lozada. “When my mother had a heart attack three years later, my daughter Alexandra and I moved to Puerto Rico to take care of her.”
That’s where Lozada says she met her husband James. “By the time my mother passed away, I’d met James and we had a son, Jianluc.” So, rather than move back to New York when her mother passed, Lozado’s family built a life in Puerto Rico. There they lived in a second story wooden addition, built above her mother-in-law’s concrete home.
“When the storm hit, we thought we were prepared,” says Lozada. “We had canned goods, gas, water, enough supplies for 8 or 9 days.” But the storm was much worse than they could have imagined. “I’m from New York, I’d never seen anything like this, it was horrifying,” said Lozada who says she can remember the terrible noises coming from above as they hunkered down in her mother-in-law’s home.
Peering out during the storm, Lozada recalls seeing her refrigerator falling to the ground just outside of the window. “The wind picked the fridge back up, ripped it in two, and sent the doors flying in one direction and the rest flying in the other.” When the storm finally past, Lozada says their home was destroyed and, because her mother-in-law’s home sustained damage as well, they could not rebuild the second story addition. “One of the walls of our home was blown onto our car. We lost everything except for a few mementos and some clothing we had time to grab.”
“FEMA assessed the damage and our situation and offered us some help, including airfare to the United States.” As a territory of the U.S., citizens of Puerto Rico also have American Citizenship by birth so coming to the U.S., where both Lozada and her husband have family, was an option but it wasn’t an easy decision.
The couple’s son had grown close to Lozada’s daughter Alexandra, and her husband’s son Kevin, both of which chose to stay in Puerto Rico, making their decision to leave even harder.
“We sat down and prayed and prayed as a family,” says Lozada. “We’re big on our faith and we put everything in God’s hands.”
Rather than going back to her home state of New York, they chose to relocate to Florida where her husband has cousins and extended family. Lozada says the transition wasn’t easy but she’s incredibly grateful for all the organizations that have lent them a hand in their time of need, including Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter.
“After living in a hotel for a while, we eventually settled into an apartment in Eustis,” says Lozada. While they were looking for housing, one of James’ cousins encouraged the family to apply for help through Habitat. “Once we were contacted by Habitat, we still weren’t certain we be able to make it work. We really had to work with a lot of agencies to tie it all together.” The Small Business Association, FEMA and help from Habitat Lake-Sumter all played a role in helping Lozada and her family qualify for a home through one of Habitat’s programs.
“It’s a pale green bungalow with orange shutters,” says Lozada. “When you see it in person, the colors work beautifully together.” And she’s seen the property often, living within walking distance now, Lozada passes by her future home on a daily basis and says it should be ready any day now.
Lacie Himes, Development Coordinator for Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter, says construction on Lozada’s home began last spring and was made possible through the fundraising and volunteer hours of the organization’s Women Build program. Himes says the Inmate Construction Academy also played a significant role in completing the house, bringing together two of Habitat’s most successful programs to build a new home for Lozada and her family.
Two years ago, Lozada and her family were preparing for Hurricane Maria. This fall, they’re looking forward to a different kind of chaos.
“We’re hoping to be in our new home before Thanksgiving,” said Lozada who plans to start their own traditions, bringing together influences from both Puerto Rico and the United States. “We’re planning to share the holidays with lots of friends and family, bless the house with everyone in it and have a big, crazy Thanksgiving!”
By David Larrick
You’re invited to meet the Lozada’s and celebrate with them as we dedicate their home on Friday, November 22nd – Contact Shari for details and to RSVP: Shari@HabitatLS.org or (352) 483-0434 x 118
LAKE COUNTY, Fla. – As the recovery process continues in the Bahamas – safe housing remains an issue for residents and relief workers.
- Inmates turning shipping containers into shelters
- The containers will have bedding, electricity and air-conditioning
- Work will be completed in a couple of weeks
Hurricane Dorian’s category 5 winds wiped out structures leaving many people in tents and other make-shift structures.
That’s why the people at Habitat for Humanity came up with this solution – converting shipping containers into portable homes. With the help of inmate labor, these two containers will soon have bedding, electricity, and air conditioning.
Everyone involved says it’s a definite win-win.
“Get to utilize our time, and our work, and our efforts, and knowledge, and learn a few more skills, and something that could benefit us when we get out, and benefit the people of Abacos,” Lake County Inmate James Pool said.
Habitat for Humanity says it’ll use these two units as a prototype for all future disaster relief housing.
Work is expected to be completed in two weeks.
Citizens First Bank has vision.
Last year, they partnered with Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter and The Villages Charter High School for the inaugural class of the Youth Construction Academy, they were the first to support the students in building a home, to encourage hands-on education, and to see the benefits: 12 students, future- ready and 1 family having the safety and stability of home for the first time.
Once again, Citizens First Bank has chosen to partner with the Youth Construction Academy and be the lead sponsor for the second year in a row; building the second home, supporting the next graduating class from the Villages Charter High School, and honoring their commitment as “a bank created specifically to fill the needs of our community.”
This week, the Villages Charter students begin framing the walls of the house they will build throughout the school year. From beginning to end, the students will have the opportunity to experience the hard work, planning, and details that go into building a home. During the project, students will work alongside Habitat’s construction staff and industry professionals; they’ll use methods they’ve learned in class to work on every phase of the build, including the foundation and framing, electricity, plumbing, windows, doors, flooring and painting.
Thanks to Citizens First Bank’s investment in the community we are able to not only educate the students on practical skills in the construction industry, but also what it means to be a good community member and to give back to those in need. Throughout the school year, we aim to offer our students hands on knowledge as well as the social understanding of the impact these homes will have on the lives of the families who will receive them.
“Success is a community of people who can rely on each other, people who joyously and enthusiastically strive to lift each other up on a personal level,” says Brad Weber, Chief Lending Officer at Citizens First. “This feeling is not only contagious, but also exponentially raises the confidence and productivity of each of us in a community, resulting in a much higher quality of life.”
Citizens First Bank is a major piece of the “good community” puzzle, partnering with Habitat Lake-Sumter to invest in tomorrow’s future generation; providing students a career option with a strong financial outlook for them to pursue, and working as a team to make our community a better place to live.
The Villages Habitat Club
Kevin Tucker has been a man of many trades throughout his life, but none have held on to his interest more than managing and rehabbing real estate. Now, the transplant from New York plans to bring his passion for property management to the Lake-Sumter chapter of Habitat for Humanity by starting a club in his adopted hometown, The Villages, FL.
Tucker, a part-time motorcycle enthusiast, has worked on oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, drove a taxi, worked as a driving instructor and owned a laundromat, a dog wash and a large records storage company, all before venturing into the world of investment property while still in New York. There, he owned several properties which he enjoyed updating and where he did his own repairs. “I did everything I could myself, except the HVAC, which I contracted out,” says Tucker who also noted that he comes from a family full of roofers, siding hangers and construction workers.
Working on his businesses and his rental properties, coupled with his do-it-yourself attitude, honed a skill set that he says made Habitat for Humanity a natural fit. “When I was winding down my career in record-storage, I had more time for my rental properties and more time to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity,” says Tucker.
Tucker worked with a local chapter of Habitat in New York and picked up where he left off with his volunteerism when he moved to Florida. He noticed the potential right away, with more than 100,000 retirees in his new hometown, many of which would have skills or interest in helping out at Habitat, but he also noticed something peculiar.
“I’d run into people from the Villages at every Habitat build or function I attended,” says Tucker. “I’d see them once or twice and then they’d disappear.” Tucker believes that shows there’s plenty of interest among his fellow Villagers but, without a structure or format to keep them engaged, they likely become disconnected once their build or volunteer opportunity ends. Tucker plans to create that engagement with the Habitat Club and he’s already seen plenty of interest.
“I have about 40 people who’ve expressed interest in joining the club, just through word of mouth,” says Tucker who also noted that those joining don’t necessarily have or need a construction or trade background.
Tucker says they’ve already got their first assignment, once the club is up and running. “We’ll be assessing a couple of the Habitat Re-Stores to see how we can refresh them and update some of the landscaping.” The Villages Habitat Club will also be cutting playhouse materials for a new event, “Jingle Build-Off” in December.
Ultimately, he’d like to see the club tasked with their own build and have the club’s name attached to a house they complete in one of the surrounding communities. Until then Tucker says the club members will be available to Habitat in any way that benefits the organization and engages the club’s members.
If you are interested in learning more about The Villages Habitat Club, you’re encouraged to contact the club at VillagersHabitat@aol.com. Their first meeting will be held at the Sea Breeze Recreation Center at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, October 9th and Tucker says anyone interested is welcome to attend.