Habitat for Humanity Lansing: Building Hope, Housing and Prosperity

Demystifying the myth about Habitat for Humanity, Vatalaro would like to spread the word that the organization is not a charity; rather, it is a liaison to help people move forward in their lives by providing a safe and solid home with an interest-free mortgage through Habitat for Humanity.

“To qualify, candidates must be able to provide proof of viable and sustainable income,” Vatalaro reiterates. “One of the greatest misconceptions about Habitat for Humanity is that we give homes to ‘poor’ people. That is not true. We provide opportunities for homeownership, requiring candidates to contribute 300-500 volunteer hours on their home or on any other ongoing project we have. We want to provide not only suitable housing, but also an overview of how to maintain and take care of that house once they are paying the mortgage.”

Throughout its 25-year operation, Habitat for Humanity Lansing has built more than 100 homes and has impacted more than 400 homeowners throughout Lansing, East Lansing, Okemos, Haslett and Holt. Currently, the nonprofit has seven active projects: two rehabs in East Lansing (which is the first in 20 years), a complete redo in REO town and a 4-home sustainable green-build community on South Aurelius Road.

For Shamika Jones, a single mother of two boys working full-time and attending Michigan State University, the dream of home ownership is coming true.

“Shamika is a prime example of the candidates we seek out,” Vatalaro says. “She is a busy mother, student and co-worker who is trying to build a better life for her and her two sons. Without the support of Habitat for Humanity, Shamika could have continued the cycle of overpaying rent and putting off her dream of living in her very own home where she contributed her time and effort alongside a dedicated group of volunteers. She is consistent and is deserving of this opportunity.’

“(With) seven projects going simultaneously (and) only one construction manager, whose time is valuable at each site … you might imagine that one of the greatest needs we have is volunteerism and funding,” said Vatalaro.

Although an affiliate of Habitat International, Habitat for Humanity organizations are independent of the national brand and not supported by the organization other than lending its name and logo to each individual chapter.

As one of 77 Habitat for Humanity affiliates in Michigan, funding has been more difficult to come by since 2008, although Vatalaro notes that financial support has been picking up recently in what she hopes is a sign of economic rebuilding in the area.

What it comes down to for this grassroots organization is covering the needed man hours and the necessary funding to keep projects moving along, especially since qualified candidates pay an interest-free mortgage to Habitat for Humanity Lansing.

“The bottom line is that we have a bottom line,” Vatalaro said. “There are no banks involved in our lending process, nor in our financial support.”

As development director, one of Vatalaro’s main objectives is to secure sponsorships and partnerships that provide win-win opportunities for area businesses and individuals.

Corporate sponsorships have been very effective for the organization as they help companies to identify a viable candidate within its own organization which elicits volunteer opportunities to help “one of its own” and to secure financial assistance through company-sponsored drives and matching incentives.

The organization has also been building its Corporate Partnership program, which is a fee-based sponsorship that recognizes area businesses as Premier Benefactors providing publicity and positive community development.

“The launch of this program has been well-received,” said Vatalaro. “And we would like to personally thank Accident Fund of Lansing for its continued and impacting support for this program.”

Pointing out that there are more than 4,000 vacant or abandoned homes in the areas in which it serves, Vatalaro knows that there are many worthwhile projects and candidates who can benefit from a Habitat for Humanity home.

“We want to work to improve existing homes and to improve socioeconomic diversity within our neighborhoods, which results in improving the tax base through urban redevelopment. Again, the hand we provide serves to improve the communities and the lives of the families we touch. We do not give away homes; rather we give families hope of owning one.”

Important to mention are several important fundraisers and opportunities to support Habitat for Humanity Lansing:

For more information, to find out how to volunteer or attend a fundraising event visit www.habitatlansing.org.

Author: Trenna Nees
Photo: Terri Shaver 

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