Community

Habitat for Humanity build offers special needs volunteers a chance to shine

House will be new home for refugee family from Democratic Republic of Congo

Edward Brown (left), a lead direct support professional at Mayor’s Youth Empowerment Program, works with MYEP client Jimmy Nunez to install a shower curtain at a Habitat for Humanity home in Iowa City on Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018. The house on Governor Street is this year’s Women Build project, and clients, staff and volunteers from MYEP came to help clean the house in preparation for its dedication. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Edward Brown (left), a lead direct support professional at Mayor’s Youth Empowerment Program, works with MYEP client Jimmy Nunez to install a shower curtain at a Habitat for Humanity home in Iowa City on Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018. The house on Governor Street is this year’s Women Build project, and clients, staff and volunteers from MYEP came to help clean the house in preparation for its dedication. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — Helping people always feels good. But for a small group of special needs volunteers, having the opportunity to put the finishing touches on an Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity house Wednesday was not only fun but also a chance to learn.

Wednesday’s volunteer opportunity was the first collaboration between Habitat for Humanity and the Mayor’s Youth Empowerment Program, a nonprofit organization that services people with special needs.

“This was a wonderful opportunity for our clients to get out into the community and be a part of something that helps the community,” said Katie Lammers, a board member and volunteer with the youth program. “And at the same time, it’s an opportunity for our clients to learn some new skills that could potentially help them gain employment.”

For volunteer Jimmy Nunez, 27, of Coralville, helping clean and prepare the house for its new family gave him a feeling of pride.

“I had fun doing the work,” he said. “It feels good to know that I helped a family get into a house.”

Nunez worked with Edward Brown, a lead direct support professional with the Mayor’s Youth Empowerment Program, to install a shower curtain in the upstairs bathroom, something he said he’s never done before.

“I’m happy,” he said. “I learned a lot, and it feels good to help.”

Other volunteers swept and vacuumed floors, cleaned the glass and windows and tidied up the house’s many rooms.

“It’s been really wonderful having (the volunteers) here,” said Christy Shipley, the project’s construction manager. “It’s great to see that they are so excited to help and learn, and they’ve been a big help.”

Shipley serves as the construction manager for all of the Habitat for Humanity’s Women Build projects, which aim to empower women to pursue their interests in construction and related trades.

“Really, the goal is to empower women to pursue their goals in any field,” she said. “We want to show them that if they can get into and succeed in construction, which is typically thought of as a man’s job, then they can break through every barrier and do anything.”

That lesson, Lammers said, was not lost on the youth program volunteers.

“These are everyday skills that most of us take for granted,” she said. “But for our clients, these skills could possibly translate in to employment or even help them move closer to independence, and that’s what we hope for.”

The four-bedroom, approximately 1,600-square-foot home on Governor Street in Iowa City is the Women Build Project’s 10th home build, and it will go to a family from the Democratic Republic of Congo through the Habitat for Humanity’s Affordable Homeownership Program. The family of five, with a fourth baby on the way, came to the United States from Kinshasa as refugees, fleeing decades of conflict and economic strife.

“We’re so excited to be able to help this family get into their own home,” said Tami Bonnett, development director for Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity. “They’ve been living in a two-bedroom apartment, which is obviously not enough space for a family of five, and with a new baby on the way, it was really important for them to have more space, but also for them to have a space of their own.”

Habitat for Humanity celebrated the home’s completion with a dedication ceremony Sunday where the keys were presented and the family got to see their new home.

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

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