Habitat for Humanity — more than housing

Habitat for Humanity doesn’t just build homes; it builds communities.

While the organization is known for its construction work, Greater Lycoming Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Tina McDowell said there’s a lot more to the non-profit.

“We are more than just building homes. When they think about Habitat, people think about home building, which is great, it’s one of the premiere things that we do. But we also support families with (other programs),” she said.

One of Habitat’s newest initiatives is a financial literacy education program, filling a void created when STEP Inc. ultimately decided to end their similar program.

“STEP just decided to go in a different direction … they have so many balls in the air that they didn’t feel like this was something that they needed to continue to do,” McDowell said. “Habitat is stepping in to pick up the ball (because) this is what we do. Our mission is about building stronger communities through making opportunities for affordable, decent housing for people. And not just building homes. You know, the education piece that goes with it is just as important, if not more important.”

The program will begin in the fall after Habitat’s housing councilor becomes certified. Courses will cover several topics, including pre-housing council, financial literacy, how to improve credit, how to maintain a home and how to manage a checking account. The organization will partner with experts in the community to help teach the classes.

Courses will be available not only to those applying for Habitat housing, but also to the general public.

Habitat also has partnered with Transitional Living Center in a Second Chance Works program that provides employment opportunities for women who are coming out of incarceration and going through the process of reentering the community.

Through the program, the women are set up with cleaning jobs and receive minimum wage. The program provides the women with skills and experience and gives the women the opportunity to find housing and sustain themselves, McDowell said. Currently, the women are cleaning college housing, but the cleaning service is available to anyone.

These newer programs join old Habitat offerings, such as the ReStore, where the non-profit sells unused, donated items to support building projects and A Brush with Kindness, in which volunteers provide exterior home preservation services, such as painting, landscaping and minor repair to outdoor damage.

And of course, Habitat always has construction projects to help build up the community.

Currently, volunteers are working on a build site at 709 Diamond St. The organization hopes to have the build completed and the homeowner moved in by the end of the summer.

Even for volunteers, Habitat is a learning experience.

“We have a construction site manager, a supervisor and we have other kind of lead volunteers that teach the other volunteers, the inexperienced volunteers, how to do everything. So somebody who doesn’t know the first thing about swinging a hammer or cutting lumber can still volunteer and we teach people those skills,” McDowell said.

After work on the Diamond Street home is complete, Habitat is looking to break ground on two building projects alongside the STEP Inc. and the City of Williamsport as part of the Brodart Neighborhood Improvement Program.

Habitat would like to break ground on these projects in the late summer or early fall to have a roof built by winter, McDowell said.

McDowell believes the many partnerships Habitat has are integral in improving the community.

“I have learned through 25 years of being in the non-profit human service realm that partnership makes us stronger. Whether we’re partnering with for-profit organizations or other non-profits or religious groups, it doesn’t matter. When we can bring other organizations into our circles, that means we don’t have to be experts at everything,” she said.

Those interested funding local Habitat projects may donate to the Greater Lycoming Habitat for Humanity.