ELM’s Adventure with Habitat for Humanity

by Audra Ellis, Tri-County Community Partner Liaison, MiCAFE

This summer I attended an event for the United Way Campaign. This campaign was to encourage State Employees to donate to one of the United Way certified non-profit organizations, of which Elder Law of Michigan is one. During these types of events, I tend to walk around to other booths to see what other programs and resources are available.

I started my networking at the booth for Habitat for Humanity. This is where I met Dena Vatalaro, who does outreach for their organization. Dena introduced herself then explained all of the ways I could donate to Habitat for Humanity. I then introduced myself and said sorry I’m not a state employee. I actually work for Elder Law of Michigan and I’m your competition here today, but I would still like to be friends because I’ve always wanted to work with Habitat for Humanity. Instantly, a light bulb went off in my noggin…Could we set up a team build for our organization? I asked. Dena responded with, yes, of course!

photo 5We exchanged business cards and I promised to give her a call the next day. I couldn’t hold back my excitement, so I called her the same day after returning from the United Way event. After all, I didn’t want Dena to forget who I was, and how much I wanted to help out. Within the next couple weeks we worked out all of the details and set up two dates for our staff to work on a Habitat for Humanity house.

Both groups worked on a house on Jerome Street in Lansing. Group one which consisted of: Rachael Savoie, Lyndsy Gamet, Char Brooks, Kate Larlee, Pat Ocheltree, Alexis Ringman, Sheila Robison, Kim Hill and Skye Felsing. They spent their day painting siding, wrapping and stapling insulation, removing old siding, cleaning up siding that was scattered all over the homeowner’s yard. Ron, one of the Habitat for Humanity staff members said “Our group was an amazing group of characters, and he was very impressed with the amount of work that was accomplished.”

The second group that participated in the build included: Jay Tomic-Bobas, Jessica Sanchez, Mary Beth Daley, Charles Daley, Dawn Kepler, Katie Burns, Chris Jackson, and myself. Our group’s tasks consisted of measuring siding, cutting siding, and hanging siding. I do have to mention that our group had a few more challenges than the first build group, since we worked in pouring rain and snow. But we didn’t give up! Our group even used power tools, and that even includes me. I cut multiple pieces of siding with a power saw (scary, isn’t it). While cutting my first piece of siding, my coworkers were so supportive and were cheering me on and this encouraged me to suck it up and stick through the freezing weather to get all of the siding put up. I also had the chance to put siding up using a nail gun, this was another first I was proud of. The first time I shot the nail gun, I shot three nails out instead of one. I got a little too excited and had to take a timeout from the gun. Our group was also very successful, we managed to put up three walls of siding on a very tall house. As we cleaned up for the day, the homeowner came home from work and expressed her thanks for our hard work. She even made us sugar cookies.

Working with Habitat for Humanity was one of the best experiences of my life. I learned so much from the Habitat construction crew, skills I can now use on my own home. It felt amazing to help people in our community hands on. I’m blessed to be employed by such an amazing organization that encourages the amount of community involvement as it does.

Since our team build, Elder Law of Michigan is in the progress of adding Habitat for Humanity’s programs to our benefit screening. This way we can refer eligible clients to get assistance through their outstanding programs!

Audra EllisAudra is the MiCAFE Tri-County Community Partner Liaison at Elder Law of Michigan. She has been with Elder Law since February of 2009.

Before coming to Elder Law, Audra worked as a Shift Leader at Alcohol Drug Administrative Monitoring, where she oversaw shift changes and worked closely with clients developing her communication skills.

As a member of the MiCAFE team, Audra works closely with MiCAFE community partners and seniors in the tri-county area. She also partakes in case management and delegates attorney correspondence, working closely with both clients and attorneys to keep daily activities within the organization running smoothly and efficiently. Audra also helps Elder Law give back to the community by building partnerships with local organizations.


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