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Habitat for Humanity volunteers repair Waimea home

Updated: 
January 9, 2014 - 10:02pm

Among the pounding hammers, buzzing saws and rhythmic whirl of paint rollers Thursday was the enthusiastic banter of nearly 30 volunteers making critical repairs to a Kuhio Village home in Waimea.

All were determined to improve the quality and safety of Lianne Yu’s Kauikeaouli Street home. The effort is part of Habitat for Humanity West Hawaii’s Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, a program addressing the need for adequate housing, healthier living conditions and a renewed sense of community through home repair projects and community engagement. Habitat staff and volunteers tailor the work to meet specific needs of the neighborhood and partner homeowners, said Erin Stephens, community relations coordinator.

Kuhio Village, a Department of Hawaiian Home Lands Development, has been the initiative’s main focus since 2011. The homes were constructed between 1952 and 1976. Many require repairs such as new paint, roofs and flooring; exterior and interior wall upgrades; and landscaping or accessibility improvements. At least 14 Kuhio Village homes have been repaired to date, Stephens said.

The homeowners are selected on the basis of need, income and credit level, and willingness to partner with Habitat by contributing “sweat equity” — the hours of labor homeowners dedicate to building or repairing their homes and the homes of their neighbors, as well as the time spent investing in their own self-improvement.

Habitat homeowners in West Hawaii typically begin their sweat equity after being accepted into the program and complete a minimum of 500 hours before moving into their homes. For the Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, the sweat equity required depends upon the amount of work necessary, Stephens said. Sweat equity reduces the amount of paid labor needed.

Yu, who is staying with a family member in Honokaa, wasn’t present Thursday morning when West Hawaii Today got a tour of the work. However, several volunteers said Yu was grateful for the opportunity to repair her home and had expressed her gratitude to all those contributing. Many volunteers also noted their appreciation for Gwen Ahana and other neighbors for aloha, meals and help.

Work on Yu’s home began Jan. 2 and is expected to be completed by the end of next week. The three-bedroom house is being converted to a two-bedroom house with two bathrooms. It needed electrical and plumbing upgrades. Because of water damage, about 75 percent of the drywall had to be redone, the carpets taken out and new siding installed. The concrete floors will be polished and finished. The carport is also getting spruced up, said construction manager Richard Kaniho.

Born and raised in Waimea, Kaniho got involved with Habitat when the Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative began. Each time he volunteered, it touched his heart and reaffirmed how much he enjoys helping his people. When the opportunity came to take the construction manager job Kaniho took it. While he doesn’t get paid as much as he did building big custom homes, this job is extremely rewarding, he said. What Kaniho likes most is how Habitat improves one’s way of life, by helping homeowners reestablish their foundation, teaching valuable skills and instilling a sense of pride in all involved.

An 18-member Global Village Team, which arrived Jan. 4 and leaves Saturday, has been key during this home repair project. Habitat for Humanity International offers a myriad of volunteer vacations, called Global Village trips, that allow people an opportunity to help others achieve the dream of simple, affordable, healthy and safe housing while also becoming a part of the local community and participating in cultural activities. Such trips celebrate the spirit of volunteerism. The length and cost of these trips vary, but all payments include a donation to the host community’s Habitat program, said Charlie Cocores, trip co-leader and volunteer from Connecticut.

Sarah Ritter, 20, of San Diego overcame her fear of flying to be a part of this Global Village Team. The Azusa Pacific University student, who is studying special education, said the experience has been more rewarding than she thought it would be. Not only has she become more confident in basic building and house maintenance skills, she has discovered more about herself and learned some life lessons. She hopes Yu can feel all the love she and other volunteers are putting in her home.

Connecticut resident Mike Maguire has volunteered with Habitat for a decade. When volunteers work on a house, he said they put their sweat, frustrations, excitement, goodwill and positive spirit into it. It’s not only the place that changes, but also the people. Connections are made, relationships formed and communities built or re-energized, he added.

Volunteers, partnerships and donations are still needed for this project and other Habitat efforts. To get involved, call 331-8010 or email vista@habitatwesthawaii.org.