In 2005, newly retired Hazel Spain moved to Cleveland from Blanchard, La., and after three months of reading and relaxing by herself, she knew she was ready for a change.
“I thought, ‘... well, I can’t do this my whole life!’” Spain said.
Deciding she wanted to volunteer with her free time, Spain showed up at the offices of Habitat for Humanity of Cleveland Inc.
Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating poverty and homelessness. Since the local affiliate’s charter in 1991, Habitat has worked in partnership with low-income, working families, churches, sponsors and communities to build decent, affordable housing.
While she did not want to hold an actual hammer on the construction site, Spain was more than willing to do office work. After a few weeks of cleaning out the supply closet and finishing all the filing, Spain wasn’t sure what else to do.
Then, one of the Habitat staff noticed her new digital camera.
“Would you like to go take a picture of the houses they’re building?’” Spain remembers her asking. “And I said, ‘Well, yeah, if I can find it!’ And so I found it. And the rest is history!”
Families in need of decent shelter apply to local Habitat affiliates. Throughout the process, homeowners must take certain classes and also invest hundreds of hours of their own labor, called “sweat equity,” into building Habitat houses and working in various support areas. After receiving their home, each family repays on a low-cost, zero-interest loan. The homeowners' monthly mortgage payments are based on income and are used to build still more Habitat houses.
For the past eight years, Spain has not only taken pictures of all of Habitat’s major events, she has also turned her photos into beautiful scrapbooks for the affiliate to keep.
Each year, Spain creates a scrapbook containing all of the year’s published newspaper articles about Habitat. She also makes one that has in the past been called the “Homeowner’s Scrapbook.” The scrapbook contains photos of each family who has received a Habitat home, their home in various stages of construction and other Habitat events from throughout the year. This year, she has decided to change the name to the “Habitat Family Scrapbook,” to represent the loving atmosphere that surrounds the homeowners as well as the volunteers, sponsors and staff who have worked to make it all possible.
Without Spain, Habitat would not have a cohesive historical framework.
“I would call her our ‘resident historian,’” said Habitat’s Resource Development Director Tammy Johnson. “She, very much, is aware of all our important dates and important milestones in Habitat. She captures all the important events that surround our families, our volunteers, our sponsors, our staff, every single year ... the things we wouldn’t want to forget five years from now.”
Not only does Spain make scrapbooks, she is also in charge of sorting and pricing all of the books that are donated to Habitat at the ReStore. Before she took over, none of the staff had time to organize the books in order to make them easier to peruse. Spain decided if she felt it needed fixing, she should fix it herself. And as it turned out, she really enjoyed sorting books.
Habitat of Cleveland has two ReStores in Bradley County, one at 300 Grove Ave. S.W., and one at 4605 North Lee Highway. The ReStores accept donations from businesses and individuals of new and gently used items ranging from clothing to appliances to building materials. The items in the ReStores are for sale to the public and all profits from the ReStores go directly to Habitat of Cleveland to build homes for qualified families in Bradley County.
“I love to do it. It’s so enlightening,” Spain offered. “It’s hard to explain. You can almost tell what kind of people donated the books. It’s really, really interesting.”
Johnson added, “Hazel is really somebody that we can count on, which is very important.”
Spain hopes more retirees will volunteer at Habitat for Humanity of Cleveland, saying it would be “great” if there were enough volunteers to take individual responsibility for all of the sections of the ReStore, like she does with the books.
“We just have fun! If volunteers will come and be regular enough, they’ll get to see how much fun it is,” she smiled. “And we just joke back and forth, and it’s kind of like family, I guess you’d say. You just get to where you like what you’re doing.”
Those interested in volunteering for Habitat for Humanity should call the nonprofit’s Volunteer Services Department at 473-4610, ext. 202, or sign up online at www.habitatofcleveland.org/volunteer.