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New Habitat staff in North Idaho learn need for flexibility in building

by Kaye Hult

North Idaho Women’s Build volunteers prepare for foundation.

In leading their first Habitat for Humanity Women Build Week in Coeur d’Alene, Elisabeth Haas and Barbara Pianko learned that projects require flexibility.

Because the city was putting in water and sewer lines, the concrete truck did not have access to pour the foundation for the home being built for Habitat partner family Jon and Casey Stimmel.

Elisabeth, who began as volunteer coordinator with Habitat for Humanity of North Idaho (HFHNI) in December, and Barbara, who began as administrative assistant in April 2016, had arranged for groups to work during the second week of May. 

More than 70 people volunteered. 

Not only did the street repair stand in the way but also the weather hindered the build.  The women could work only one day, building forms for the foundation.

Unable to begin building the 42nd house in the Coeur d’Alene area, they planned as a back-up option to paint a house through the North Idaho Habitat’s A Brush with Kindness (ABWK) program. 

Women Build groups spent two days scraping, power-washing and priming that structure.

Elisabeth and Barbara worked with HFHNI’s new executive director, James Casper, who began in December and veteran construction supervisor Greg Nowak, who has participated in HFHNI’s 10 Women Builds. 

Habitat for Humanity International, partnered with Lowe’s to launch Women Build Week 10 years ago.  The program invites women to spend a day helping build a safe, decent, affordable house.  Many volunteers for the Coeur d’Alene project were Lowe’s Heroes, employees who volunteer.

When a Habitat affiliate undertakes building a home or helps a homeowner with improvements through A Brush with Kindness, homeowners partner by offering “sweat equity.”

Habitat partner families are Kootenai County residents who live in unsafe, unaffordable housing, and earn 30 to 60 percent of the median income for the county. 

Families repay a zero-interest mortgage and put in 500 sweat equity hours in their own homes and others’ homes.

“We seek to empower families by providing economic opportunity, home ownership, education, long-term partnership and hands-on learning,” Elisabeth said.

Individuals, corporations, faith groups and others support through home sponsorships, monetary contributions and in-kind donations.

On the opening day of Women Build, May 9, Jon and Casey told how they became Habitat partners. They had owned a home but, with the economic downturn, had both lost their jobs and then their home. They were homeless for three months before Jon found work, and they moved into what they thought was a sound mobile home.  Realizing it was unsafe, they applied to Habitat last year.

Habitat provides a mentor to walk through the process with homeowners.

Nathan Smaley is next in line for a Habitat house through HFHNI.  He won a silver and a gold medal in downhill skiing at the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria this March. Despite his personal difficulties, he approaches challenges with a positive attitude.

He will spend the summer providing the sweat equity to become a homeowner.  He likens it to skiing, in that it requires work and determination to accomplish.

Elisabeth, who came to Coeur d’Alene a few years ago and studies at North Idaho College, was drawn to Habitat because of their mission to put God’s love into action, following the Bible’s call to “love thy neighbor.”

“I wanted to give back to the community,” she said. “I like to help people. Habitat seeks to build hope. There is always hope.”

Working with Habitat fulfills a vision Barbara had when she was in California studying for her real estate broker’s license.

“I envisioned working with youth to build houses for mothers and children.  When I described that vision, someone said Habitat does that,” said Barbara, who moved to Coeur d’Alene, where she finished a master’s degree in human services from Liberty University in 2015. 

She said every Habitat affiliate is an independent entity, raising funds for its projects and tithing to Habitat for Humanity International to build houses globally.

Habitat buys land, pays for licenses, materials, plumbing and more.  Volunteers do the building and help throughout the organization—in the office, at the ReStore and on ABWK projects.

Habitat for Humanity of North Idaho was one of about 300 Women Build Week projects throughout the nation. 

Habitat-Spokane also took part.  There, volunteers helped two families, one who immigrated from Ghana and the other with roots in Cuba and Bhutan.

Spokane’s Women Build took place on May 10 in Deer Park.  Volunteers put finishing touches on two homes, said Habitat-Spokane CEO Michelle Girardot.

“National Women Build Week is something we look forward to every year,” she said.  “Seeing women come together in both building homes and building up each other shines light on the spirit of what Habitat for Humanity-Spokane tries to accomplish.”

For information, call 208-762-4663 in North Idaho or 534-2552 in Spokane, or email or

Habitat-Spokane Blitz Build is June 5-16

Habitat-Spokane’s annual Blitz Build kicks off Monday, June 5, and continues to Friday, June 16.

The opening ceremony begins at 8:30 a.m. at the Blitz Build site, 300 East “J” Street in Deer Park. It concludes with a dedication of two homes.

Habitat-Spokane has been “Blitz Building” for 15 consecutive years, drawing community volunteers, businesses, organizations and builders willing to partner with Habitat for Humanity-Spokane to eliminate the cycle of poverty.

The 2017 project is to continue building on four homes, and finishing and dedicating two other homes.

  “Though Habitat for Humanity-Spokane builds year-round, the Blitz Build is an accelerated construction effort that brings the community together,” said Michelle Girardot, CEO for Humanity-Spokane. “It’s a fun way for the community to make a difference that will last for generations.”

Future Habitat homeowner Kat Ford’s home is one of the six homes in the build.

“Habitat is about learning and teaching. Through partnership, families are taught how to give back. That’s how I learned to heal,” she said.

 Several hundred skilled and unskilled community volunteers, sponsor groups and Habitat candidate families will work side-by-side to build homes.

For information, call 534-2552 or email


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