Medina County’s Habitat for Humanity group began 25 years ago — and Norm Glantz has been a volunteer for 22 of them. Glantz serves coffee and popcorn at the group’s nonprofit ReStore outlet, eagerly talking to people about what the next home-building project will be.
He has seen the growth of donations to more than $4 million in that time and the achievements of the group, having served as a board member for 21 years as community and church relations director, and spending one year as the group’s vice president.
Tina Fenos, of Brunswick, has firsthand knowledge of the group’s mission, too. She became a new homeowner April 1.
“I wake up every day, and I thank God for this miracle that (Habitat) gave me,” she said. “I can’t even put into words without crying how much the words thank you mean.”
“It’s very humbling to me because there are so many people that give up all their time to make our dreams come true to have a home,” she continued.
She worked on it herself, too, as part of Habitat’s rules. The construction of Fenos’ new home began in July 2014 and was completed in March. Fenos said she and her daughter took classes at Home Depot on gardening, electrical work, plumbing and other tasks to take care of their new home.
“I hit my thumb and finger with the hammer more than the nail,” Fenos said.
Glantz has worked on six of the 31 homes the group has built in the quarter century, and he is a volunteer at ReStore, a retail location in Medina that sells donated goods to raise funds.
He remembers the early days prior to the founding of ReStore. “In the beginning, when we started building, we went to the mailbox and prayed that there would be a check to move on to the next place,” Glantz said. “Now with the ReStore we don’t have that.”
More than houses
Of the 31 homes built, two were completed in Brunswick in April. They join 12 built in Medina and seven in Wadsworth. Two more are in the planning stages for Wadsworth.
But the organization doesn’t just build houses. Its goal is to build the future for the people who live in them.
Since its founding, Habitat for Humanity has exceeded $3 million in the total appraised values for the 31 homes. In turn, the organization has written mortgages for more than $2.6 million.
All money brought in goes back to the organization to fund future construction.
Sometimes, Habitat provides mortgages through donations that it receives — from simple checks or sponsorships or grants.
The group estimates that there has been a $1 million savings in mortgage values to homeowners compared with what the housing costs would have been in a private market.
Within the last 25 years, three homeowners have paid off their mortgage.
“We’re starting to get to that point, after 25 years, where people are seeing the benefits,” said Habitat treasurer Pat Neal. “We’re celebrating their financial success.”
Habitat leaders say it is set up as a “nonprofit Christian housing ministry and looks to help families in Medina County who have jobs and working on financial struggles but don’t own a house.”
“Thomas Jefferson once said, ‘The strength of a nation lies within its home,’ ” Medina Habitat President Dave Lehotan said. “We feel that homeownership is part of this strength, and we want these people to feel the strength of their home. It’s at the heart of our mission.”
Habitat leaders say their ReStore is one of the most successful all-volunteer stores nationwide. In 2014, the Medina store had the second-highest sales among the 88 all-volunteer ReStores. There are 788 ReStores nationwide.
Volunteers and donations
Since the group began, Habitat officials estimate they have received 31,000 “man days” — calculated as a full workday in which a volunteer gives time to help.
Every Thursday, ReStore trucks pick up donated materials around Medina County. ReStore manager Dan Shumaker noted that 25 percent of the donations come from pickups. Other donations are surplus materials from sources such as Lowe’s or Home Depot.
Dan Shumaker has been involved with Habitat for 13 years and is the ReStore manager. In 2007, Shumaker and another volunteer started the ReStore in Chippewa Lake but in 2011, it moved to 342 E. Smith Road in Medina.
“It’s very fulfilling to be able to work in that environment,” he said. “The money that we take in goes in the general fund to build houses with.”
“We’ve been able to build (31 houses) because of the funding from the ReStore,” Shumaker said. “It’s very satisfying to me.”
Prior to managing ReStore, Shumaker was president of the board for four years. He also has worked on 16 of the 31 Habitat houses. Shumaker and his wife, Cheryl, both volunteer at the ReStore.
“It’s just great to be able to work with your spouse in retirement and help out in the ReStore,” he said.
Glantz calls the volunteers “unnamed heroes.”
“(Volunteers) are there because they want to be there to help,” Glantz said. “Not because, ‘I have to be there’ or, ‘I get paid.’ Those are the people that are the backbone.”
As a volunteer, or someone who wants to give back the community, there are different aspects of the organization that they can learn about and get involved in, including carpentry, ReStore stocking and ReStore truck help, newsletter, electrical, install flooring, doors, windows and cabinets or painting.
Many families eligible
Habitat officials say there are about 4,600 families in Medina County that are eligible based on income and other criteria to apply for a Habitat home. Another 4,800 families are eligible for a “brush of kindness” — a program that offers $3,000 of repair work to the family’s home.
When families are chosen, they agree to become partners with Habitat in a variety of areas. They must complete “sweat equity” hours (300 hours for a single parent, 500 hours for a couple) either at ReStore or on the construction site of their future home.
Fenos, the Habitat client from Brunswick, said she applied for a home twice, and after getting denied the first time, tried again a year later. In June 2014, she received the letter of approval.
“You would’ve thought those were sirens in Medina but I was screaming when I got the letter saying they accepted me,” she said.
Following a divorce, Fenos’ home went into foreclosure and she said she filed for bankruptcy.
She said she was working seven days a week in addition to accepting overtime work to support herself and her daughter, Emily Wilson.
Fenos said it was “humiliating” and “very difficult” for her when she would wait in line at a foodbank.
“I don’t like to ask for help,” she said. “(But) we rose above it all, and God was by our side the whole time.”
Fenos volunteers one Saturday a month at the ReStore in Medina.