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10 DAYS OF GIVERS: Habitat for Humanity continues to build community, homeowner pride

December 5, 2017 GMT

John Corcoran swears replacing a window is easy.

But as the construction manager for Habitat for Humanity Winona-Fillmore Counties, he’s had a lot of practice — especially since the organization surpassed its goal and record for homes updated throughout its A Brush with Kindness Campaign, repairing 38 homes around Winona.

The organization surpassed its previous record of 25 homes, breezed through this year’s goal of 30 homes and nearly hit its stretch goal of helping 40 homes during the annual campaign targeted at improving neighborhoods, houses and living situations for Winona and Fillmore County residents. That campaign also includes homes with Critical Home Repair designations, targeted at helping homes with more foundation and roofing issues.

The end result of its effort, local Executive Director Amanda Hedlund said, is a better community.

“It’s not just the home,” Hedlund said. “It’s what the home means to the person living in it.”

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The international organization Habitat for Humanity began as a housing ministry in 1976, with the mission of eliminating homelessness by building and providing quality homes to the community. By 1994, the organization had found its way to Winona and built its first home.

Since beginning in Winona, the organization has built 50 homes for families in need, connected and expanded into Fillmore County following a devastating 2007 flood, assisted dozens of homes each year with repairs and structural updates, and provided the community with a donation site and cost-saving store for used or unwanted household items at its ReStore

The organization also coordinates and works with the city, City Planner and Habitat for Humanity Board President Carlos Espinosa said. A map of the City of Winona shows overlap in projects the organization has taken on with emphasis areas the city has identified for improvement.

The primary area the city is focusing on in 2017-2019 is the east end of Winona between Second and Sarnia streets, but Espinosa said the city anticipates areas to the west of Huff Street to be the focus area after 2019.

By working together, Hedlund said, the city can save on construction costs by utilizing the habitat’s volunteers, and the habitat can assist people who approach the city, creating a strong partnership.

Now, the organization is getting an update of its own.

The local Habitat for Humanity is renovating a building at 126 N. Baker St., Corcoran and Hedlund said. The new location will allow the organization to expand its ReStore — currently on Laird and Second streets — to accommodate donations, centralize its office space into one location with the ReStore and provide classes for homeowners on upkeep of their homes, Hedlund said.

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The education component that comes with the new building will help homeowners become more competent in taking care of their homes, Hedlund said. Corcoran has noticed while building for the community that basic repair skills are dwindling, and education is necessary for saving money and gaining a familiarity with homes, Hedlund said.

The newly-acquired building adds 2,000-square-feet to the ReStore, which could ultimately help the store boost revenue, allowing Habitat for Humanity to have more resources available for its annual projects and repairs.

Between the offices and ReStore combined, Hedlund said the organization employs only six people and relies heavily on volunteers, both on job sites and at the store.

“We love volunteers,” Hedlund said, adding that when it comes to volunteering at the store, “people don’t realize it’s a fun way to volunteer.”

Over the summer, Corcoran estimated the local Habitat for Humanity had 1,200 volunteers.

Who knows how many of them knew anything about replacing a window, but they sure didn’t mind lending a hand.