Hi, I’m Laurie Bryant and I have been the Corporate and Community Training Coordinator at Lake Technical College for about 2 ½ years. I have the opportunity to attend community events to represent Lake Technical College and to provide summer camps for the youth in our community. I am a member of Leadership Lake Board of Regents and a Board Member for iBuild Central Florida. I’m married to AJ Bryant and have a son, Román Newkirk, who will be graduating from high school in May.
Needless to say, my schedule keeps me busy but last year I took a little time to participate in Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter’s Women Build! I enjoy friendly competition so when I heard that anyone who raised $1,000 would join an elite group of women (The Sisterhood of the Pink Hard Hats) and receive a personalized hard hat, I knew I had to do it—and my whole family joined in!
I had an amazing team for Women Build named The HammerKnockers. Our team, consisting of 9 women and 2 gents, raised $3,743.09 and worked on a new home construction site in Eustis on two separate dates. Several team members earned pink hammers and hard hats and were proud to accept those honors at the Pre-Build Celebration and use them during the build!
It was very hot the day of our build, but we were hyped-up and ready to work! I think a few of us were a little disappointed when the next group came and we had to stop building for the day. The HammerKnockers built and erected the first 2 walls on the house, and we loved every minute of it!
Team members have been asking about joining the team again, so that makes me even more excited about participating this year than last year, if that’s even possible! I’m grateful to my returning team members and the new members who will join us for Women Build 2020.
This past November, I had the honor of speaking at the key ceremony for the Lozada-Santiago family and to present the family with a Bible and took kit.
I let the family know that we put a lot of love into our portion of the build and told them about the kind, positive, and uplifting words we wrote on the framing at the front of the house. After the ceremony we were able to tour the home and see the final product. The HammerKnockers that were present felt so proud and happy knowing that we had something to do with providing a home for someone.
Women Build is such a fulfilling event that I encourage everyone who can to participate. Participation could be forming a team, being a team member, or making a donation. There are so many ways to participate, and the end result is that you help someone own a home who otherwise may not be able to be a homeowner, if not for Habitat for Humanity and the efforts of Women Build.
I have done a lot of community service for the past 20+ years and have helped so many people, but I’ve never had the opportunity to provide a home for anyone! How awesome is that?!
If you are not able to form your own team or would like to make a donation, please feel free to work with The HammerKnockers!
Interested in Women Build? Contact Lacie at (352) 483-0434 x 146 or Lacie@HabitatLS.org
Have you visited Habitat’s ReStore in Eustis lately? If you have, you might have noticed some incredible improvements or upgrades, and maybe even seen the man behind them: Don Williams.
Don Williams is a problem solver who values efficiency, ingenuity, and independence in his work life. Since a young age, Don has always enjoyed building things, as a graduate from Syracuse University in the field of engineering, he dedicated the majority of his life constructing solutions to everyday problems. After obtaining his degree, Don served eight years in the United States Air Force; spending 4 of those years oversees and 4 years stateside, Don was stationed at the RAF Wethersfield, England Air Force Base, and in Alexandria, LA. After completing active duty, Don worked for the National Guard and later the Department of Energy, where he was able to put his love for engineering to optimal use. Don retired in 2002 and decided to enjoy some of his hobbies with his free-time, like fishing.
But retirement and hobbies left Don wanting more, “full-time fishing was unfulfilling,” Don says, as he recalls an intuitive calling to do something more with his retirement.
Being a little unsure what to do next, Don decided to try community service, he started volunteering at Lake Cares Food Pantry and eventually crossed paths with Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter. Don began volunteering with Habitat Lake-Sumter on June 30th, 2018 and found he could put his background in engineering to use. During his time with Habitat, Don has been a huge contributor to the renovation of the Eustis ReStore (even planting flowers which are currently in bloom!); some of his improvements include installing new flooring, painting, constructing new shelves, and rebuilding the framework in the buildings. Thanks to Don’s expertise, the ReStore has been able to add more space for inventory and displays, “I just love to work, I’ve always enjoyed every job I’ve had,” explains Don.
Since 2018, Don has volunteered MORE THAN 2,000 HOURS working with Habitat Lake-Sumter, whether on a build site, the Eustis ReStore or as an office volunteer!
So we had to ask him, “Don, what makes you volunteer so much?”
Don says there are “endless opportunities for improving little things that go unnoticed,” he likes to think of a finished project catching people’s eye and the thought “who did that?” running through their mind.
Don is passionate about volunteering because it has allowed him to utilize his skills, keep his mind sharp, and continue to produce the work he enjoys doing so much.
In December, Don was presented with a Community Service Award by the Rotary of the Villages Noon, not only for the work he does with Habitat Lake-Sumter but also for his continued involvement with Lake Cares Food Pantry.
Don Williams is a one-of-a kind person and an incredible volunteer. We can’t thank Don enough for the hard work, time, and dedication he invests in Habitat Lake-Sumter every single week!
If you’re interested in volunteering and becoming part of our Hometown Habitat Family contact Carlos at (352) 483-.0434 x 119 or Carlos@HabitatLS.org
It was just another day at Lake Sumter State College. Arriving on time to my 11am Philosophy class every Tuesday and Thursday morning had become a ritual for me from the months prior. Usually class would start with a lecture on some philosopher like Rene Descartes or Thomas Hobbes and lead into discussion, but this morning was different. It turned out that a job fair was being held at the center of campus and my professor instructed my classmates and I to leave class, enter the courtyard, and search for jobs.
Although I was employed at the time, it was lacking the sort of experience I was looking for. I wanted to be somewhere that I could use my skills in a practical sense, towards something that I wanted my career to look like. So, my search began. I made it my goal that before leaving the courtyard that day I would speak to each individual to see what they were looking for and in doing so, I hoped to find what I was looking for. There were all kinds of stands, Waffle House, H&R Block, you name it. But upon speaking with the representatives at each stand, one stuck out. One whose mission statement meant something. One that would uplift my community. That one was Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter.
This was my first-time meeting Shari, the Marketing and Communications Coordinator with Habitat Lake-Sumter; she was searching for an intern and that was precisely the opportunity I was looking for. So, we spoke, she handed me all of the information I needed to submit my application, and bam! A few weeks later I was deemed the Marketing and Communications intern under Mrs. Shari McCray. This was, and still is, a very exciting time for me. I have been able to take part in so many projects. I’ve done work to produce a new event, Jingle Build-Off, interviewed all sorts of people, created videos, wrote articles, took photos, but most of all I’ve learned something new each and every day I’ve spent working with Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter.
Today, I continue to strive towards being as helpful as I can to everyone in the office, as well as the volunteers and homeowners that I see so often. The experience and knowledge I have gained through this internship is something that I am truly grateful for, so much that I will always remember my time here with Habitat Lake-Sumter.
Looking back, the most eye-opening experiences I’ve had continue to occur regularly when I get to hear wonderful stories from our volunteers with all different backgrounds and experiences. Their stories teach me something about life, and that is, no matter who you are or what you do, the central idea that can bring us all together: the importance of giving to others. So whether you’re a volunteer, community partner, or future homeowner with Habitat reading this, I hope that one day I can meet you and hear your story as well.
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
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.
“It was harder than I thought it would be,” says Frances Garrandes after pounding nails with other women volunteers to construct and raise a 55’ wall on a home in Eustis. “But I’ll be back next year!”
Hammering in the heat and humidity didn’t slow her down. That determination to accomplish goals is evident throughout her life, including going back to college to finish her undergraduate degree at Stetson University, then finishing her Master’s Degree at age 50 through Strayer University. As a Property Manager at Disney, she’s even exploring ways to further her education as a Project Manager, a field she finds exciting and rewarding.
“I’ve been blessed in life and feel I need to give back.” When she heard about the Women Build campaign at an International Women’s Conference, she knew she wanted to get involved.
“I believe in Habitat’s program. They don’t give houses away; potential home owners have to go through the mortgage application process, they must give back through volunteer hours and by supporting someone else’s home construction.” She adjusts the pink hard hat on her head and smiles. “This program is a great boost to help someone who can’t do it on her own.”
She signed up for the Women Build events and began posting about her volunteer plans on Facebook. She was determined to raise at least $1,000 so she could be inducted into the Sisterhood of the Pink Hard Hats. By using social media to spread the word, she ultimately raised $2,200 and received the affiliate’s first-ever traveling trophy, “The Most Excellent Fundraiser” purple shoe.
Having raised three children as a single mom, she understands the importance of closing the gap between the cost of renting versus buying a home. Habitat’s program often means a mortgage payment is several hundred dollars less than a typical monthly rent. That financial “space” gives a family the financial breathing room it needs for other important things, such as healthcare.
And what does she get out of all this?
“I get the satisfaction of knowing I’m helping someone else. This will be my first time helping to construct a home, but it won’t be my last!”
-Lee Owen, Habitat Volunteer and Community Advocate
From Kyle, a Banker of three years and Judy, approaching her forty-second year as a Teller, to Lake-Sumter District Manager, Randy; the volunteers from Wells Fargo span age, careers, and experiences –yet they have one important thing in common: Giving Back.
Twenty-one volunteers from Wells Fargo worked at two Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter build sites on Saturday, April 27th. Spread between the home being built in Oxford and another in Eustis, in one day alone, Wells Fargo volunteers painted, caulked, and contributed over 84 volunteer hours and donated $15,000 to Habitat’s home ownership program.
Annually, Wells Fargo hosts a statewide “Day of Service,” a day where team members are encouraged to engage in service projects by volunteering in their communities. Nationwide, “Day of Service” has generated over 2 million hours in volunteered time, awarded over $500,000 in grants to non-profits where team members volunteer; and ultimately, has created an environment where ‘community giving’ is embedded in the culture and attitude of Wells Fargo.
Branch Manager, Rane, says this year’s “Day of Service” is helping to build seven homes in Central Florida and thirty homes statewide, “In the past we’ve been able to partner with Habitat and it’s our go-to. Everybody loves helping to build a home.” Rane also says the commitment to their visions, values, and goals for community involvement is what led her to working with Wells Fargo.
One of Wells Fargo’s goals is “creating solutions for stronger, more resilient communities,” and this goal manifests itself through first time home buyer programs, NeighborhoodLIFT, and partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter.
District Manager, Randy, has worked for Wells Fargo for ten years and has volunteered with Habitat for Humanity for the past five years; between painting, roofing, and putting up siding with Habitat and working alongside his father who is a general contractor, Randy has done it all when it comes to building a home.
However, working with his fellow team members provides more than volunteer hours. Randy says it cultivates purpose and community when they work together outside of the usual four walls; he finds that volunteering creates a different kind of bond that “translates into better partnerships and teamwork in the business.”
On why he volunteers personally, Randy says his goal is to leave things better, “Living and working in the community, I like to make it a better place. It gives me that sense of giving back and really helping families and individuals that need our support.”
Proving that the community involvement and camaraderie of Wells Fargo thrives because of the team members themselves, “I have the best team ever and we love being a part of it!” Randy shouts loud enough for every volunteer to hear.
Scientists say life is made up of atoms and energy, but I say it is made up of stories. Stories help us understand how we impact the world and how the world impacts us. Our stories can be silly, or heartbreaking, or thrilling. Some stories are brief – a spontaneous weekend getaway and some can span years – a journey of self-discovery. I think the best stories are the ones we share with other people, the ones that are experienced both individually and collectively. The people I met on the Habitat for Humanity Global Village trip to Honduras will forever be a part of my story because together we impacted the lives of a deserving family and of each other.
Our team of volunteers – a group of people, whom without Habitat for Humanity, would have probably never met – quickly became a family. We grew to know and appreciate each other’s quirks and each other’s strengths. We shared once-in-a-lifetime-excursions – snorkeling through coral reefs, touring gardens and eating exotic fruits straight from the trees, sharing meals with locals, and visiting a pineapple plantation. For me, the most impactful part of our journey was working side by side, sharing tools and water and a lot of sweat at the build site. The act of joining together to create something so life changing for another family truly fortified the bond of our new volunteer family.
When my mom bakes my birthday cake she says, “I made it with love.” That is how I felt at the build site. As I filled cinder block joints with hand mixed cement and shoveled dirt to fill the foundation, I could feel my love and energy being poured into the Espinoza’s future home. The warm air around me was filled with a surreal feeling of hope and I felt completely at peace. I could picture Tatiana and Dylan playing in their bedrooms, safely surrounded by the walls I helped to build. During our farewell celebration, after becoming so immersed in the culture of Honduras and the Espinoza family, I felt uneasy to be leaving this experience and these people behind me. The Espinoza family touched my soul and I will remember this blessing always. Just as the Espinoza family has become a part of my story, I have become a part of theirs and in that sense, I never fully left. As they move forward and write new stories in their new home, part of me will be there with them…in the dirt, in the cement, and in their hearts.
Whether it’s searching for jewelry, finding a new car, or – in our case – recruiting volunteers, sometimes you find one that truly stands out. In our case, this came in the form of Martha Cole, a retiree and well-tenured Habitat volunteer. Her background in volunteering is extensive and Habitat has usually been the focus of it all. After moving to Lake County, she wasted no time in getting engaged with our efforts and has proven to be a hugely valuable addition to our team.
With National Women Build Week presenting a large amount of work and volunteer groups, we decided we’d need a Crew Leader to help manage the workforce. We asked Martha to take that role and she was key to making that week a success. Now that we’re entering summer and work is slowing down, we wanted to hear from her about how her experience as a Crew Leader was, her thoughts on Women Build as a whole, and what the story is behind one of our favorite volunteers!
- You were excited to be involved in National Women Build Week. What do you think about the event itself?
I think it’s a great concept and I’m grateful to Lowe’s for sponsoring it. It’s a super way to get new volunteers, and the resultant publicity builds public awareness. What’s not to like?!?
- What did you enjoy most about being a Team Leader for Women Build?
Well, due to my advanced age, it’s kind of fun to have a platform from which to be able to inspire women to realize they can do a lot of things they never thought they could, and that age is not necessarily a deterrent. One of my favorite sayings is: “Age is an attitude”. At the end of the day, I tell them to take a good look at what they have just accomplished, and to be proud of having made a difference.
- When did you first get involved with Habitat for Humanity – not our affiliate, but Habitat in general?
My first involvement with Habitat was in 1992. I wasn’t even aware of Habitat for Humanity until a Habitat volunteer addressed the congregation at my church in Naples, FL one Sunday, explaining the concept and telling of the need for volunteer workers. It sounded right up my alley, so I started volunteering and fell in love with the mission, the work, my co-workers, and the whole concept. That was 26 years ago and I’ve done hands-on building one or two days a week ever since…and loved every minute of it. When we decided to move to The Villages, the hardest part for me was leaving my Habitat friends in Collier County, and the first question I asked our realtor in The Villages was whether there was a Habitat chapter here. That was last January, and as soon as I got the boxes all unpacked, I began volunteering at Habitat-LS’s Veteran’s Village site in Umatilla two days a week.
- What’s one of your favorite experiences or build sites? After building 1900 houses more or less the same [in Collier County], a fun experience was to come to the Veterans’ Village where the houses are built so differently, and learn all the new skills of building (vinyl planking floors instead of 12” vinyl tile squares; metal roofs instead of asphalt shingles; cement board siding instead of vinyl siding, etc).
- We hear you’re planning on participating in a Global Village trip this year! Where are you going, and what excites you the most about the trip?
In late October I’m going to El Salvador for a week with my old chapter to build two houses in the area of Ciudad Arce, about 15 miles northwest of San Salvador, the capital. I’ve never built anywhere outside of Florida and I’m really looking forward to the experience. I have no idea what sort of houses we’ll build, but I’m excited to meet and work with the local families who will be the recipients of the houses. Having been fortunate enough to do a lot of traveling, I am struck over and over again how much people are alike all over the world. We all want to be able to provide our families with a decent place to live, and it thrills me to be able to help people achieve this.
One of the ways we get our community involved with our mission, beyond writing a check or attending an event, is to get them out on the work site on a Team Build. This creates a sense of ownership and engagement with the project and can feel so rewarding that some groups come right back for more! While many businesses, churches, and civic groups will come out once a year, some want the back-to-back experience; one of these groups is My Favorite Things out of Eustis, and they put in some serious work at the Veterans Village.
My Favorite Things emphasizes a culture of giving in their mission statement and focuses every aspect of their operation on fostering that mindset. A family-run business, they want to make sure that all employees are treated as one of their own and that everyone gives back, as a group. Putting their hands behind their words, their first Team Build in March was some low-glamour, high-necessity work at the Veterans Village. Their team primed an entire house with a healthy, paint-ready coat, and they scraped the floors in another house to have it ready for flooring. While it wasn’t the flashy stuff, the work they did was crucial for the next steps to happen on schedule.
On their second work day in April, we treated them to some more hands-on type of work. Splitting into groups, one worked on installing flooring and the others prepared the kitchen cabinetry for installation and finished up some decorative patio pillars. They breezed through the flooring like it was second nature and the patio is ready for some final touches, and as they wrapped up for the day said they were excited for the next one!
It’s this type of engagement and enthusiasm that keeps our projects ahead of schedule and helps us further our mission. If your group is interested in joining us, reach out to Matt at 352-483-0434 x146 or email@example.com to get hands on for a hand up, not a hand out.