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Greater Des Moines Habitat Presents Its Third Annual Key Awards.

Last month Greater Des Moines Habitat for Humanity held its Third Annual Key Awards ceremony to recognize several local individuals and businesses for their dedication to Habitat’s mission. As a nonprofit whose vision is “a world where everyone has a decent place to live,” Habitat for Humanity is an institution closely tied to those in the construction industry and trades.

“The Key Awards honor people and organizations who have partnered with Habitat to further our goal of affordable housing,” says Jenna Ekstrom, Greater Des Moines Habitat spokesperson. “For the past few years, we’ve presented these awards in September to recognize some of the many people who help us every day.”

The 2015 recipients included Kenneth and Bonni Newton, Citi, Polk County Housing Trust Fund, Wes Snook, Van & Bonnie of WHO radio, and the Des Moines Arts Festival (see “2015 Key Award Recipients”).

“Whether they receive an individual, a corporate, or a community award, every Key Award recipient is being honored because of their philanthropy and their dedication to Habitat in particular,” Ekstrom explains.

That philanthropy may be in the form of financial contributions, volunteer support, or dedication to raising awareness of Habitat, she adds. And most of the recipients have been involved with Habitat for years, donating funds and putting in hours on projects and promotional campaigns.

WHO’s Van Harden and Bonnie Lucas have been avid Habitat for Humanity supporters for almost two decades now.

“We’ve been together at WHO for 21 years,” Harden says. “I can’t remember when Habitat started in Iowa, but we let them know at the beginning that any time they needed something promoted or needed an event covered, all they had to do was call.”

Besides promotional announcements on WHO, the Van and Bonnie morning show and other WHO personalities have broadcast live from some of Habitat’s larger events.

“We’re out there, on air, with the saws going and hammers swinging, whenever they call us,” Harden says with a laugh.

Harden had been following Habitat’s efforts before it opened an Iowa office and was impressed with the mission and the approach to fulfilling it.

“A home is such a personal thing,” he says. “And the thought that someone could go through life without that is just heartbreaking.”

Lucas adds, “Habitat is really making it possible for people who might not otherwise ever be able to afford a home, and with their sweat equity investment, it’s a unique approach.”

And that’s one of the things Harden and Lucas appreciate about Habitat’s program.

“When you think about it, yes, a skilled foreman supervises the project,” Lucas says. “But it’s ordinary people doing most of the work. And the homeowner has to take classes to make them a knowledgeable homeowner, besides actually working on the home’s construction, learning siding, shingling, and drywall. Most of these homeowners are better prepared for homeownership than the rest of us.”

Ekstrom says the list of worthy recipients is so long that the Greater Des Moines Habitat is in no danger of running out of nominees; more likely, Habitat will have difficulty choosing which loyal supporters to honor.

Though the process is informal, she says the internal committee that selects the recipients takes the responsibility very seriously. In fact, the nomination discussions typically start shortly after the beginning of the year in preparation for the fall awards.

“They told us months and months in advance that we were selected,” says Harden. “We tend to be the ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ type, so Habitat’s organization and planning was very impressive.”

“We were down there rehearsing the night before. They had tape marks so we knew where to stand. They even told us which hand to accept the award with. It was incredibly well-organized,” Lucas adds.

The gala celebration on September 10 included dinner, drinks, and the award ceremony. And to top it off, Harden says, the schedule was arranged to accommodate the early bedtime required of morning radio personalities.

“They served us drinks and dinner and gave us our award and kindly let us go home early before they finished the other activities so we could get to bed on time,” he laughs.

But, like the other Key Award recipients, Harden and Lucas are always available when Greater Des Moines Habitat calls because they share Habitat’s vision to bring “people together to build homes, communities, and hope.”

2015 Key Award Recipients

  • Community Key Awards
    • Van Harden and Bonnie Lucas, WHO radio
      For sharing the spirit of Habitat and generously telling the Habitat story on WHO radio and their willingness to share Greater Des Moines Habitat’s mission with thousands of people in the greater Des Moines community.
    • Wes Snook, Manager Hy-Vee Ankeny Store #1
      For his continued support and his enthusiasm to partner with Habitat through the Arts Festival Build, the Hy-Vee golf tournament, and the WHO Build Day.
    • Polk County Housing Trust Fund
      For bringing awareness and change to affordable housing in Des Moines and Polk County with grant funding that totals close to $4 million since 2001.
  • Individual Key Award
    • Bonni and Kenneth Newton
      For their significant contributions through the It Starts at Home Capital Campaign, the Builders Circle, and Kenneth’s long-time service on the Greater Des Moines Habitat Board of Directors.
  • Corporate Key Award
    • Citi
      For continued financial support since 2001 by sponsoring house builds, the Blueprint to Homeownership program, and the It Starts at Home Capital Campaign.

Share the vision!

If you haven’t been involved with Greater Des Moines Habitat for Humanity yet, consider sharing the organization’s vision for decent housing for everyone. That’s what our industry is all about. Why not get involved?

“We have projects going year-round, Monday through Saturday, so there’s always something to be done,” Jenna Ekstrom says.

WHO’s Van and Bonnie add that it just takes one visit to a Habitat work site to get hooked on the program.

“Once you see the camaraderie of the people working, the homeowners out there putting in all that time on their own homes, you see what it’s all about, and you want to be a part of it,” Harden says.

Lucas adds, “They always need volunteers of any level, but those with gifts and talents in the trades are crucial. They’re needed to lead and lend their expertise.”

Want to Learn More?

For more information about the Greater Des Moines Habitat for Humanity projects or volunteer opportunities, visit GDMHabitat.org or call 515-471-8686.

Habitat for Humanity

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In Remembrance


It began as a simple vision to help low-income families own affordable homes, but it has become an international organization providing everything from housing assistance to disaster relief. Habitat for Humanity, one of the most recognized charitable organizations in the world, has been working for nearly four decades to make sure everyone has a decent place to live.

Habitat has been a model of successful, faith-based service from its inception. The organization’s emphasis on sweat equity, affordable quality, and local involvement has resulted in steady growth throughout the world. More than four million people worldwide have been served and over 800,000 homes have been built or repaired.

What’s more, Habitat has found unique ways to get community involvement at all levels. If your business or employees would like a way to give back personally, and not just with financial contributions, Habitat for Humanity has an answer to fit your service goals.

Bring in a speaker. Maybe community service is a new undertaking for your company. If that’s the case, Lance Henning, Executive Director of Greater Des Moines Habitat for Humanity, suggests having a Habitat representative speak at your next company meeting. “We will gladly send someone to speak to any size group to explain how Habitat works and the impact it has in our community.”

The Habitat speaker will highlight both the mission of Habitat and the numerous ways you and your employees can get involved. It’s a great way to inform your team about opportunities and get them excited about participating in projects that bring big change right to your own community.

Become a marketing partner. Another creative way to partner with Habitat is to establish a cause marketing partnership, which commits a percentage of qualified retail sales to support Habitat’s work. Your business can select key products or services, create specially branded packaging, and promote these items to consumers. When they purchase these specific products, your customers have the satisfaction of knowing they’re supporting Habitat. And your business supports the organization as well.

Donate products. If you’re in the construction trade, you can also donate products and tools in addition to time and expertise.

“Material donations usually go to our ReStore,” Henning says, “and the proceeds go directly back into the Habitat projects. But we often have framers, plumbers, builders, or other contractors take on an individual project and provide the materials or the labor or both to complete that home.”

Swing a hammer. The most popular way for businesses and individuals to support Habitat is by hands-on work at one of Habitat’s construction or repair sites. Your business can send an entire team of workers, skilled or not, any time of year.

“We have year-round activities,” Henning explains. “In the off-season we do Panel Builds at our indoor location and repair or rehab projects, too.”

Special Programs. Greater Des Moines Habitat for Humanity organizes a number of special work opportunities to get community members involved throughout the year. Henning says, “We do theme builds on a regular basis, not just to promote specific projects but to keep people involved in what we’re doing every day.” Examples of the programs are Women’s Build, Rock the Block, Winter Warriors, and Panel Builds.

During April and May 2014, Greater Des Moines Habitat will be sponsoring two Rock the Block events; the goal is to complete construction or repairs on up to 25 homes in one week. And the organization has introduced on-site Panel Builds, which brings the work directly to your corporate location. “We build wall panels right in your company parking lot or other designated site,” Henning says. “We bring all the materials to you, and your employees can sign up to work designated hours during their normal workday.”

Whether you’ve volunteered in the past or just thought about volunteering, whether you’re a seasoned construction professional or someone who’s never hammered a nail, Habitat for Humanity has a place for you. And your volunteer time does more than save money or leave you with a warm, fuzzy feeling. It guarantees that someone in need has a decent place to live. That’s time well spent.