The vision of Broome County Habitat for Humanity is simple: help local families achieve home ownership while also helping to maintain safe, stable neighborhoods. Habitat assembles volunteers from local churches, nonprofit organizations, schools and businesses to rehabilitate existing homes and build new ones.
To qualify for a Habitat house, a family must complete an 18-page application, attend home ownership workshops and put in 400 to 500 hours of “sweat equity” on its own or another Habitat project. The family also provides a modest down payment and closing costs. Habitat then sells the home to the family at no profit, with a no-interest mortgage.
Along with a core group of 20 to 25 volunteer construction leaders, Habitat relies on a continually-changing cast of local community members to work on its construction projects. “It is critical to our success that those volunteers stay safe and healthy,” says Amy Winans, executive director of Broome County Habitat for Humanity.
To make sure the houses harmonize with their neighborhoods, Broome County Habitat usually builds two-story structures. So it made sense to buy a scaffolding and railing system to protect volunteers. “When they climb ladders, they are harnessed, and they have a lot of safety protection around them,” Winans says. The new equipment also helps when workers climb open staircases or stand near the edges of platforms. “Any time you have a fall safety risk, those railings are really important.”
An $11,000 grant from the Community Foundation in 2015 paid for that equipment, plus a smart TV that volunteers use to view safety videos. “These educate people in a general way about how to stay safe on a job site,” Winans says. “And whenever we bring in new equipment, such as this safety system or a new tool, we can bring people in to watch instructional videos together.”
The new safety equipment gives workers greater confidence. “There are volunteers who might not have been able or willing before to climb a ladder to balance a piece of siding or hoist roofing,” Winans says. “Now they’re up on the scaffolding, taking part in a really fun part of the build.” For their part, construction managers now feel better about sending other volunteers onto high perches, she says. “They’re friends on that crew, and they want to keep each other safe.”
Volunteers also consider the Foundation’s grant a thank-you note from the community, says Winans. “Someone noticed that what they do matters, and someone noticed that we need to keep them safe.”