Home World NWI Habitat banks on help from volunteers, including veterans – Chicago Tribune

NWI Habitat banks on help from volunteers, including veterans – Chicago Tribune

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Working quickly to fill a trench line for a downspout, and pound shingles on a shed roof, the volunteer crew hustled to beat a Friday afternoon thunderstorm.

A group of six volunteers from Centier Bank and three core members of Habitat for Humanity of Northwest Indiana labored on a home in Lake Station’s Riverwalk subdivision where about 14 Habitat homes are either completed or in the planning stages.

To mark Memorial Day, Friday’s “Honor Build” was sponsored by Centier Bank, which allowed its employees to take time away from their jobs to volunteer.

Volunteers Jami Bradshaw, on right, and Al Avila work together to shingle the roof of a shed as workers gather to participate in Habitat For Humanity Northwest Indiana's Honor Build event on Friday, May 24, 2024. (Kyle Telechan/for the Post-Tribune)
Volunteers Jami Bradshaw, on right, and Al Avila work together to shingle the roof of a shed as workers gather to participate in Habitat For Humanity Northwest Indiana’s Honor Build event on Friday, May 24, 2024. (Kyle Telechan/for the Post-Tribune)

Centier Bank sent its Veteran Resource Team to participate in the build, reflecting their dedication to veterans and their families, said Habitat spokeswoman Wende Burbridge.

“Now that I’ve retired from the Navy, I find it a privilege to continue to serve,” said Al Avila, a senior investment adviser at the bank.

Avila, of Hammond, spent 24 years in the service. He was in the Navy Seabees, which provides construction support to the Navy, Marine Corps and other military operations, including constructing base facilities.

Habitat for Humanity core volunteer Keith Bruxvoort cuts shingles to size as he and other volunteers work on a shed as part of the program's Honor Build event on Friday, May 24, 2024. (Kyle Telechan/for the Post-Tribune)
Habitat for Humanity core volunteer Keith Bruxvoort cuts shingles to size as he and other volunteers work on a shed as part of the program’s Honor Build event on Friday, May 24, 2024. (Kyle Telechan/for the Post-Tribune)

Avila and fellow Centier volunteer Gina Gervais, an employee manager in human resources, are part of the bank’s Associate Resource Group that’s devoted to supporting veterans and to community outreach.

Avila is comfortable around a construction site, but most of the volunteers didn’t have much experience.

Gervais said her husband is a carpenter and she’s learning some skills from him. “I do like hammering and nailing,” she said. “I’m not afraid of power tools.”

Volunteers Gerica Vega, on left, and Mike Furlan dig a trench for a drainage pipe as workers gather to participate in Habitat For Humanity Northwest Indiana's Honor Build event on Friday, May 24, 2024. (Kyle Telechan/for the Post-Tribune)
Volunteers Gerica Vega, on left, and Mike Furlan dig a trench for a drainage pipe as workers gather to participate in Habitat For Humanity Northwest Indiana’s Honor Build event on Friday, May 24, 2024. (Kyle Telechan/for the Post-Tribune)

For Gerica Vega, of Portage, and Amanda Muha, of Schererville, it marked their first Habitat experience.

“I like it. It’s very rewarding,” said Vega, a regional retail administrative assistant at the bank.

“It’s wonderful that Centier gives us the time to give back to the community,” said Muha, who’s Centier’s instructional design manager.

New volunteer Robert Decrescentis, on right, cuts a plank for a deck with assistance from four-year volunteer Jim Horgash as people gather to participate in Habitat For Humanity Northwest Indiana's Honor Build event on Friday, May 24, 2024. (Kyle Telechan/for the Post-Tribune)
New volunteer Robert Decrescentis, on right, cuts a plank for a deck with assistance from four-year volunteer Jim Horgash as people gather to participate in Habitat For Humanity Northwest Indiana’s Honor Build event on Friday, May 24, 2024. (Kyle Telechan/for the Post-Tribune)

Mike Hall, a Habitat staff member, is a core volunteer with experience in carpentry, plumbing and electrical jobs.

Hall, a Gary Wirt High School graduate, spent four years in the Navy and then four years in the Indiana National Guard.

Although the Lake Station home they worked on Friday wasn’t for a veteran, Hall said many veterans are in dire need of housing. He said there are about 1,400 veterans in Lake County in some kind of housing crisis.

He said he’ll mark the holiday with his family, which includes two sons, ages 19 and 9.

“No parades this year, we’ll just stay home,” he said.

Mike Furlan, of Schererville, has been a volunteer with Habitat since 2000. “I was in engineering, but a lot of this was new to me.”

Furlan said he likes the Habitat concept that requires homeowners to put in sweat equity on their homes and pay the mortgage. The future homeowner must put in 300 hours of labor.

Another regular volunteer, Keith Bruxvoort, of Highland, said he’s been helping out on weekends since he retired as chief financial officer for Strack and Van Til grocery, in 2005.

“I enjoy it, I grew up on a farm. It’s great to meet the families and see the end results.”

Dakita Jones, vice president and community relations manager for Centier, said in a release that “Habitat for Humanity isn’t just about building houses; it’s about enriching lives, restoring hope, and building a brighter future.”

To learn more about Habitat, visit www.habitatnwi.org

Carole Carlson is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.



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