Busy hammers filled the quiet street with loud thumps as volunteer workers from Mars Chocolate determinedly built a rehabilitated house from the ground up.
Each wore a gray T-shirt with the company’s red M&M spokesperson sporting a yellow hard hat with a Habitat for Humanity logo.
Human Resources Manager Anthony Johnson said the service project is an opportunity for Mars to give back to the community.
“We have been here for 35 years, so it is really a chance for our associates to get out and help Habitat for Humanity,” Johnson said. “Also, nationwide we are sending out a call for fans to contribute 1.5 million minutes of volunteer service.”
The Cleveland-based project is part of a larger push by Mars to “M’Prove” America. The company is encouraging fans to donate time and money to Habitat sites across the country. Employees will offer their time through the company’s Mars Volunteer Program.
Mars employee Chris Calandrino said this is his second year participating in a Habitat build through the MVP days.
“It’s a good cause. Once you go out and do it one time, you will see what it is all about,” Calandrino said. “... I think everything Habitat for Humanity offers, from having a restore with discounted goods to doing projects like this, is just awesome.”
Thursday found Calandrino and his co-workers laying the sub-floor for the restoration project. Each member of the team kept busy whether hammering, sawing or setting floors.
Homeowner Crystal Kazy was present for a portion of the day’s activities.
Added Calandrino, “I think it is really cool they have the homeowner here as well for the blood, sweat and tears part of it,” which Habitat terms “sweat equity.”
Kazy spent much of her time at the site taking in the progress of the volunteers.
“I appreciate this and all the people who are giving their time,” she said with eyes glued on her future home. She and her 11-year-old daughter will move in once the project is completed.
“I’ve never really had a home since I was a kid. She’s had a home, but it has been public housing,” Kazy explained. “So ever since she was born she has been in that. She has always had a [place to live], but not a home.”
Added Kay, “I want to teach her how to take care of a home.”
Mars Maintenance Technician Ray Hawkins said the house was repossessed by a local bank before being donated to Habitat. The money put forward by the company was not quite enough to cover the cost of building a new home. Instead, Mars and Habitat decided to restore the dilapidated donation.
Habitat for Humanity volunteer coordinator Anna Carmichael and community development coordinator Annie Kinworthy said this is the first rehab house done by the local nonprofit.
“So it is not a ground-up build, instead, we had a house donated to us and they are completely remodeling the whole entire thing,” Carmichael said. “They have gutted it and are even changing up the floor plan.”
The neighbors have shown an interest in the project.
“People who may not know much about Habitat want to know what is going on. Once we start having a conversation with them, they start ducking their heads out and asking what this is,” Kinworthy said. “They see the volunteers here, the life and activity.”
Continued Kinworthy, “What used to be a condemned house, where the homeless stayed and some drug distribution used to go on, will now be the home of Crystal and her daughter.”
She commented on the uniqueness of starting a build by tearing the house down first.
Added Carmichael, “But it is also very fun.”
Kinworthy described how the Mars employees embraced the initial demolition process.
“I came out one of these days and there was this woman with a sledgehammer who was literally, almost like maliciously laughing every time she took a whack out of the wall,” Kinworthy said. “I think it was invigorating for her.”
Both agree the Mars employees have come prepared to work.
“We’ve had at least 10 every day. So we have a full crew out here and they come ready to work. We don’t have to spoon feed them,” Carmichael said. “It is great. They are so willing to jump in and do whatever it is needed, and they get things done.”
Johnson said it allows Mars employees to break out of the daily norm.
“They are part of this community, so they are passionate about Cleveland and proud of this city. It allows our employees to feel even more pride that Mars is willing to allow time for volunteers to do something for this community,” Johnson said. “It gets us out of the facility and into the sun, which is not common for a manufacturing facility.”
Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland and Dan Howell, executive assistant to the Bradley County mayor, stopped by to see the site during Thursday’s work day.
Rowland commented on the benefit the restoration would be for the community.
“When you have a house in disarray for a long period of time, even for years, it can deteriorate the neighborhood and lower the property values in the neighborhood,” Rowland said. “When you do something like this and bring it back to life, it helps the neighborhood, it helps the city, it helps everybody.”
The project will continue through September and toward the end of October. The current expected ceremony day will be Oct. 29. Those interested in joining the M&M volunteer movement can find more information on www.mproveamerica.com.