Many Hands

Volunteers complete Habitat project during Iowa State Fair 2022.

Every home built by Greater Des Moines Habitat for Humanity is the result of thousands of volunteer hours. If you attended the Iowa State Fair in August, you saw that process in action and at hyperspeed.

“Our typical build takes three to four months,” says Habitat’s Lance Henning. “To schedule volunteer crews and subs who donate their time between other jobs, it’s a multistage process.”

That process was condensed into a meticulously scheduled nine days. Fair attendees not only had the opportunity to watch the build but to tour the completed home during the last weekend of the Fair.

More than 350 volunteers and staff worked on this project from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. each day. Inspections and skilled subcontractors were scheduled at precise times to keep the work on pace.

“By the end of the first day, the walls were up. City inspectors came through Monday so the drywall crew could get started,” says Henning. “The walls were dry and ready to paint when volunteers showed up Tuesday morning.”

State Fair CEO Gary Slater was part of the crew raising the first wall. He says the project has special meaning for him. “I was CEO when Habitat did their last State Fair build in 2005. I drive by that house at least once a week in a neighborhood just north of the Fairgrounds. The family has taken such pride in caring for that house. It’s encouraging to think I was part of that and to be part of this latest build, too.”

Like that first house from 17 years ago, this one has been moved to its permanent location in a neighborhood not far from the Fairgrounds. Slater says that was just one more reason the State Fair Board was happy to partner with Habitat again. “Their cause is one that affects not just individuals but the whole community. They do such a great job, not just with their projects but with keeping their stories in the media and reminding the community about their mission.”

According to Henning, that public awareness was one of the main goals for this year’s State Fair build. “As challenging as it is to coordinate, projects like this are always a great experience for everyone involved. We really wanted to raise awareness about the growing need for affordable housing. The visibility of this project at the Fair was a wonderful opportunity.”

The build site near the northwest corner of the Fairgrounds was visible to traffic on East 30th Street and was situated near some popular outdoor exhibits and rides to increase visibility.

“I had people stopping me to ask about it all week,” Slater says.

In addition to the State Fair Board, other public figures, including Governor Kim Reynolds, Senators Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley, and Representative Cindy Axne, stopped by the site to view its progress.

“Not all of them had time to stay and swing hammers,” Henning says. “But they signed the 2×4s that will be used as studs in the home’s basement. The homeowners will have that reminder of all the people who stopped by or volunteered to help build their home.”

The family, a single mother and her disabled adult son, completed Habitat’s “path to ownership” process and will move into the home this fall.

“That path to ownership is one of the things we’ve worked hard to develop,” Henning says. “Families who apply but are not yet ready for home ownership used to just get denied. But with our process, we can sit down with them. Within an hour we can show them where they are on that path and what steps come next so they can move forward.”

As home prices and material costs have climbed rapidly over the past few years, more and more families are struggling to stay on that path. Henning says statistics indicate that for every $1,000 price increase, 1,900 families are priced out of buying a home. “Those increases aren’t something we can pass on to our home buyers either,” he says. “They can only pay what they can pay. We rely on fundraising and volunteers to make up for that increased cost.”

Thanks to Habitat’s two successful ReStore facilities and faithful donors, the organization has been able to maintain its annual build goals. In addition to the 30 homes that will be completed in 2022, Habitat will also provide maintenance and preservation service for another 250 homeowner-occupied homes this year.

“We’ve been doing that for about 10 years now,” Henning says. “It’s one thing to be able to purchase a home. But as repair costs and taxes increase, it can be challenging for families to maintain their homes. So we provide that assistance, too.”

Slater says that attitude is what makes the Habitat projects such a great fit for the State Fair. “Every person on the project was super to work with. It’s such a great cause. We were proud to be part of it.”

Many hands certainly made light work. But as with most things at the State Fair, this, too, is best done on an occasional basis.

“I’d love to finish every build in nine days,” Henning laughs. “But I think our normal pace is a little more reasonable for everyone involved.”

Learn More. For more information about the Greater Des Moines Habitat for Humanity, their projects, and how you can help visit