Transcript: Kathy Grubelic, Habitat for Humanity (The Art of Volunteering)

The following is a transcription of The Art of Volunteering Episode 19: Kathy Grubelic, Habitat for Humanity.

Stormy Bell (00:00): Welcome to another episode of The Art of Volunteering. I’m your host, Stormy Bell. Today we’re sitting down with Kathy Grubelic, Volunteer Coordinator and Community Engagement Ambassador for Habitat for Humanity Cape May out of Cape May, New Jersey. Kathy has been with Habitat Cape May since this past April, and has been involved with nonprofit organizations for over 15 years. She left the corporate world in search of ways that she could put her skills to work in order to help others. The work she does with Habitat is very rewarding and all important to not only herself and the families that they partner with, but also to all the volunteers, board members, and those who shop and donate to the ReStore. Welcome, Kathy.

Kathy Grubelic (00:46): Thank you, Stormy. Thank you for having me.

Stormy Bell (00:49): Awesome. To start us off, I’d like to invite you to share exactly what you do as a Volunteer Coordinator slash Community Engagement Ambassador. It sounds like a lot of work.

Kathy Grubelic (01:01): Well the Volunteer Coordinator part is actually not that hard. That’s the easy one. We often get people coming to us either through the ReStore word of mouth. They’re looking for opportunities to help, and I do the onboarding. I make sure all the waivers are signed, give them the history of Habitat, try and outline all the opportunities to volunteer, and then try and match up their talents and what they would like to do with what our needs are. There’s always something for everybody. As the Community Engagement Ambassador by try and go out to the public or not try. I do, I go out to the public and promote some of our programs. We reach out to civic groups, Kiwanis Clubs, AARP groups. I’m right now reaching out to all the high schools in the county, a lot of the churches in the county to let them know what we do and the impact that we have in the community. In that way I’m also recruiting for more volunteers as well as spreading the good news about Habitat, what we’re able to do, and how we help partner with families to provide affordable housing.

Stormy Bell (02:23): Oh, that’s awesome. I really like that. How many volunteers do you work with out of the Cape May Habitat for Humanity?

Kathy Grubelic (02:32): I don’t know the exact number but we have a couple hundred volunteers between our build sites and our and our ReStore. We also have volunteers that help on various committees. We have committees that are all volunteer that work with our Family Selection Committee and our Family Support Committee. Once families are selected to partner with to build these homes, we have a committee of wonderful people with enormous hearts that help them all through the entire process. We also have a board, a completely volunteer board, of like 13 people. So yeah, we’re two to 300 volunteers minimum.

Stormy Bell (03:20): Wow. A lot of places they plug in and get involved.

Kathy Grubelic (03:23): Yeah. 

Stormy Bell (03:24): You mentioned all the places that you go out to, to let the community groups that you let them know that you have volunteer opportunities. Do you find that your volunteers run the gamut with their age? Or are they older or younger? What do you find?

Kathy Grubelic (03:43): Well, here in Cape May County we have a pretty large retirement age group. Late fifties into the eighties. A lot of our consistently regular volunteers probably are in that age group. That’s not to say, you know, we don’t, we do also get a lot of like high school kids. Their community service is either warranted because they needed to graduate or they’re part of the National Honors Society and then there are a lot of kids out there that just wanna help. It doesn’t hurt their resume for getting into college, but then they end up staying and they volunteer with us for years and years and that’s great too. I would say the bulk of them are our adults. A lot of our builds, for example, are during the business day, so that’s why we do get a lot of retirees or you know, people like that.

Stormy Bell (04:46): That’s awesome. You’ve talked a little bit about this, but can you share how your volunteers connect the community with Habitat to help your mission and advocate for affordable housing? Like how that works together?

Kathy Grubelic (05:04): Sure. A lot of our volunteers, came through social networks of their own like Lions Club. Word spreads and next thing you know, we have a lot of volunteers that work in our ReStore that have all been together in Lions Club, and then that spreads. Through other philanthropic organizations like the Lions Clubs and Kiwanis Clubs and all those other nonprofit kind of organizations, we all help each other. Through those organizations and the churches and whatnot by the word getting out, families who are interested in partnering with us that need affordable housing, have an even better avenue, I guess in a way, a bigger avenue to come to us. They already have some connections or they’ve heard about it through their church groups who have people who are personally involved with us. Word of mouth is like the best advertising.,

Stormy Bell (06:13): It’s the best in every industry.

Kathy Grubelic (06:17): Absolutely.

Stormy Bell (06:19): For the people who receive houses, do you see them come back and volunteer?

Kathy Grubelic (06:28): Yes. The families that we partner with don’t receive a house. We don’t give out houses. We partner with them. We like to say we give a hand up and not a handout. They have to have income and be able to get a mortgage. It’s a very affordable mortgage. The houses are sold at an extremely affordable price. Anybody who knows anything about real estate these days, affordable is almost nonexistent anymore. Here in Cape May County especially, we have a lot of seasonal businesses here. A lot of the older homes or the homes where they were able to rent them or live in them affordably, are now being torn down. These enormous homes are being built for the summer rentals.

The prices down here have skyrocketed as I know they have in many places throughout the country. We are able to provide affordable housing because we’re building it with primarily volunteers. That cuts a lot of the overhead right there. We do have a lot of corporations who donate. We apply for grants and things. The families that we partner with also go through a process of learning. They’ve never owned a home before, so what happens if the hot water heater breaks? They need to manage their budget and know how to apply for a mortgage and keep their budget on track for their home. They also have to put in 300 hours of sweat equity. They’re helping them construct the house. They’re helping in the ReStore, they’re volunteering. They might get a group from their church to come and build for a day, and those hours can help towards their total hours. So it’s truly a partnership and oh, I love that.

Stormy Bell (08:46): Very cool. I like that. Talk a little bit about the ReStore. I was first introduced to the ReStore. I’m recently now just outside of Philadelphia, we’d come down from North Jersey. I’d heard of Habitat for Humanity but when I moved down here, I don’t know what I was looking for, I guess we moved and we needed furniture, or I was looking for furniture and I’m like Habitat for Humanity has a ReStore? I’ve never heard of that before. So tell me a little bit about the ReStore.

Kathy Grubelic (09:19): Well, our ReStore here just celebrated our fifth birthday. Even though Cape May Habitat for Humanity has been around since the early eighties, I think we’ve built our first house sometime in the eighties, the ReStore is only five years old. Now, there’s probably an affiliate in almost every county in the country for  Habitat for Humanity. We’re Habitat for Humanity Cape May County. Every affiliate operates the same and different. Not every Habitat affiliate has a ReStore. That’s number one. Not every ReStore is operating the same. Some ReStores deal with building supplies, building materials. We don’t really have that because we don’t have the customers down here for that. The customers down here are looking for furniture and small appliances and things of that nature.

Our ReStore is really pretty cool. We have the most amazing volunteers that they come up and they set up these vignettes of furniture that all matches and they put things on a wall put just so you could get, like if you walked into a furniture store and they have the perfect vase on the coffee table next to the couch with a beautiful print on the wall. We have wonderful volunteers who do little settings like that. We have a volunteer that collects costume jewelry and she fixes that up, polishes it up, and we have a nice little jewelry display. I don’t know if there’s many other affiliate ReStores that have a jewelry display like we have. We have a lot of glasses and dishes and, you know, primarily furniture. I could walk through on a Tuesday and Thursday it’s all different, all new furniture. I saw a whole bunch of new stuff coming in through the back door today, I can’t wait to go downstairs and see what came. The ReStore is a busy place.

Stormy Bell (11:26): Well I think I’m gonna stop by cause I like jewelry, so I’m gonna come check that out. Give me a good excuse to come to Cape May for the day.

Kathy Grubelic (11:36): You’re not far, if you’re near Philly. You’re like neighbors.

Stormy Bell (11:39): Yeah, yeah. I’ve been there. We do some visits with the New Jersey Audubon out of Cape May.

Kathy Grubelic (11:46): Okay.

Stormy Bell (11:47): How far are you from there?

Kathy Grubelic (11:51): We’re not far at all. We’re in Cape May Court House.

Stormy Bell (11:56): Okay. Okay.

Kathy Grubelic (11:58): Which is right outside Stone Harbor.

Stormy Bell (12:00): Nice. I will find my way one weekend this fall.

Kathy Grubelic (12:04): Yeah, definitely.

Stormy Bell (12:08): Before we came on, you mentioned a little bit about build sites. Is that more the traditional picture people have when it comes to Habitat for Humanity? Can you just kinda share a little bit about that?

Kathy Grubelic (12:19): Sure. I think it is. When I think of Habitat for Humanity, before I came here, I thought of Jimmy and Rosaline Carter with their hard hats and the hammers. Some affiliates build a lot of houses a year. We’re a bit smaller. This year we have two homes we’re building. We’ve already partnered with two families and we have a whole set of build volunteers that they just can’t wait to get a hammer in their hand and start building. The build sites are very active once they get started. So far we did have a groundbreaking last week, a little celebration for the first family. The house will probably get started in about a month from now that will actually have volunteers on the job site. Our construction manager’s working with getting all the permits and things finalized that we need to get it going.

Stormy Bell (13:25): Is there something else about it? You have two in the Cape May area that are gonna be happening.

Kathy Grubelic (13:32): Yeah, we stay in Cape May County. That’s our boundaries.

Stormy Bell (13:35): That’s your boundaries. The Cape May County. Nice. I probably should have asked you this earlier on in the conversation, but can you give a little to our listeners a little bit of history about Habitat for Humanity? You made me think of it when you mentioned the Carters.

Kathy Grubelic (13:54): The Habitat was, well our affiliate was formed in the eighties. I think the first Habitat for Humanity was in the seventies I think. It started down in the Atlanta area in Georgia by a couple of couples who recognized the need for affordable housing. They got together with their friends and they went around to church groups and raised some money and built their first house. It was a little while after that that the Carters joined and helped catapult their notoriety. That’s how most of the affiliates, if not all the affiliates have started. Here in Cape May County, there was the First Baptist Church of Cape May Court House. Same kind of thing.  They got together with a couple of couples who recognized the need for affordable housing and they started raising money and they went around to different churches. There was the First Baptist Church of Cape May Court House, there was the Messiah Lutheran Church. It took a couple of years, but they finally raised enough money to build the first house. The house that we just did the groundbreaking for last week, that’ll be our 20th house that we will build. We hope to increase the number of house homes we build each year.

Stormy Bell (15:32): That’s such a milestone. I mean, when you think of everything that goes into a house on both the partner side and on the volunteer side and all the resources it takes, that’s just awesome. I love it. Okay. I know you’ve only been with Habitat for Humanity, Cape May County since April, but can you share a story of impact, something that you’ve seen or witnessed or just shows the impact that habitat has.

Kathy Grubelic (16:06): Yes, especially with our affiliate in particular, one of the two homes we’re gonna build this year is an ADA compliant home. The family who we are partnered with have a daughter who uses a wheelchair. She has a rare disease issue. She now uses a wheelchair and they live on the second floor duplex in a busy street. That is so meaningful to all of us that this family is going to be able to have an ADA compliant home. It’s a ranch. We generally build ranch homes down here in Cape May County. Some people build two stories, but generally in Cape May we’ve just been doing the ranch homes. They’ll have everything on one floor, it’s ADA compliant. Habitat for Humanity International, we do have plans for an ADA compliant home but because of the lot situation, things had to be switched.

There’s a little delay in getting it going because the architect had to approve it. You know now what was on the right side now needs to be on the left just because of the lot. To me right now, especially with my history of working with nonprofits, it’s always been for helping individuals in the organizations who support individuals with disabilities. We’re providing a house, we’re helping to partner with this family so they can get an affordable home. It’s extremely impactful, extremely impactful because the kind of expenses people don’t realize, I should say, the amount of expenses that a special needs issue in a family, the impact that has on your day-to-day expenses, it’s huge. This is gonna be huge for this family and for all of us. We’re all very emotionally attached to this one.

Stormy Bell (18:10): Oh, you gave me goosebumps. Just seeing that comfort full circle for you having that background and then seeing this now. That’s awesome. You’ve been there since April, but you’ve been in nonprofits for 15 years. Something along the lines, I’m sure hasn’t gone right. Can you share a blooper or something that didn’t go as planned and what you learned from it or what you did differently because of it?

Kathy Grubelic (18:47): Well, I’ll tell you about a challenge I currently have that is getting better. Our build volunteers have never had to sign up for a shift because we wanna grow. And the best way to grow is to be organized and, you know, manage these things. We’ve instituted an online signup system for our volunteers. From what I have heard from past experiences with builds, sometimes we have too many volunteers on a site and then the next day not enough show up. We wanna make sure if we have volunteers coming that they’re happy and they feel productive and useful but if we don’t have enough work for them to do, are they gonna come back? We wanna have it be a rewarding experience for everybody so we’ve instituted this sign in program and it’s been a little bit of a challenge to get people to change their ways.

[Some] of our builder volunteers have been here for years and here’s this new person coming in and saying we’re gonna have to use this sign in, get a password. It’s been a little bit of a challenge but it’s getting there. It’s getting there. A lot of people are starting to get used to it. They know that we have to do this in order to grow. It’s been a few months in the making, so hopefully by the time we’re actually on a build site, they’ll know when they’re coming and that there’s a job for them to do that day.

Stormy Bell (20:20): That’s awesome. I’ve had a couple different people I’ve interviewed over the past year, and that is something that’s come into play where technology is a good tool but it’s bringing the people around to it is the challenge.

Kathy Grubelic (20:38): Everywhere I’ve been, if you have volunteers that are standing around with nothing to do, they’re not gonna come back. They’re less likely to come back, especially if they haven’t been there before. If you have a new volunteer and they have nothing to do. You need to keep your volunteers engaged and you need to make sure that they feel productive and feel like they’re contributing. We think that using a sign in system like this will help because then we know we’ll have enough people for all the work at hand and they know there’s gonna be a hammer for them to pick up when they come. You know, it’s not like all the tools are gonna be used already.

Stormy Bell (21:19): Well I wish you much success with that because the outcome is worth it. It’s just getting there. Now you get the love on Habitat for Humanity Cape May. Why should people get involved? Why do you love it so much? Just love on your organization.

Kathy Grubelic (21:48): Well, when you asked me the impact thing, that was actually my loving thing too. It’s just so rewarding to be able to be a part of an organization that helps people find an affordable place to live. Having an affordable home in a safe neighborhood not only helps that individual family, but it helps the whole community at large. It’s just spreading the love. Like we were talking about earlier about word of mouth, it’s kind of like that too. The more we can do to help people get into affordable houses in safe neighborhoods, it’ll just spread from there I think. I love that Habitat for Humanity does that, and I love that Habitat for Humanity International we go everywhere and do that. If there’s a crisis, after a hurricane, in the Ukraine, building refugee housing in Poland. I just love everything about what the organization does to help people put a roof over their head. It’s one of life’s basic needs and I just love that we help partner with families and people who need it.

Stormy Bell (23:01): You’re seeing lives change because of it.

Kathy Grubelic (23:03): Yeah, absolutely.

Stormy Bell (23:05): That’s awesome.

Kathy Grubelic (23:06): You gotta love that, right?

Stormy Bell (23:11): Absolutely. All right Kathy, thank you for being on The Art of Volunteering today. I’ve enjoyed this conversation and I’m sure we’ve motivated some people to sign in on the sign in sheet so they can pick up a hammer.

Kathy Grubelic (23:34): Just email me and we’ll get you started wherever you wanna go. Wherever you wanna help.

Stormy Bell (23:39): Well, again, thank you for coming on and I hope to see the rest of you the next time on The Art of Volunteering. Have a great day.

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