Habitat For Humanity celebrates 30 years in Tulsa
Tulsa Habitat for Humanity has built more than 400 homes with the help of volunteers.
Habitat for Humanity has been in Tulsa for 30 years. In December, the organization dedicated its 400th home. Volunteers and homeowners work together to build single-family homes.
A few dozen retired men sit or stand around sipping coffee and lightly ribbing each other about anything and everything. It’s a classic morning scenario seen in donut shops, diners and coffee shops across the country.
This one just happens to take place in the living room and kitchen of a home under construction. And these are the Tuesday Morning Miracle Workers, a group of dedicated volunteers who spend two days a week donating their time at Tulsa Habitat for Humanity.
Their coffee break over, the men ranging in age from mid-50s to early 90s get back to work installing a wood laminate floor throughout the house.
Bill Yeagle, 84, is one of the founding members of the group. He and co-founder Bob Sanborn were looking for something to occupy their time while also serving the community, so they walked into Tulsa Habitat and offered to volunteer regularly on Tuesdays.
In just a few months their two-man club grew to about a dozen. Now 25 years later, 35 to 40 retired men, and occasionally women, are a part of the Tuesday Morning Miracle Workers.
“I never thought it would turn into what it has become,” Yeagle says.
The Miracle Workers held a variety of day jobs before retiring, including as engineers, mechanics, lawyers, even a computer repair specialist and a former TV meteorologist.
The group has been around almost as long as Tulsa Habitat, which is celebrating its 30th year in the community and dedicated its 400th home in December.
Cameron Walker, CEO of Tulsa Habitat, says despite the organization’s longevity, it still encounters misconceptions. “We don’t give homes away,” he says.
Those who qualify for the Habitat program are the working poor who can’t get financing for a home through the traditional route of a bank or mortgage company.
“We stand in the gap between banks and low-income borrowers,” he says. “Our homeowners are all gainfully employed but technically living under the poverty line in Tulsa County.”
Those who qualify go through a rigorous Homeowners College with courses on money management, basic home repair, and the mortgage and lending process.
Sweat equity is another part of the homeowners’ responsibility. Homeowners must spend 200-250 hours working on the construction of their home or other Tulsa Habitat volunteer opportunities.
Todd Klabenes, Tulsa Habitat’s chief operating officer, says volunteers like the Tuesday Morning Miracle Workers are one of the biggest reasons for the organization’s success. “We would look hugely different without volunteers,” he says. “If you could look up the definition of consistent, their picture would be right next to it.”
Kent Powers started with the Miracle Workers six years ago. “You don’t have to be a skilled worker; we do on-the-job training,” he says. “It’s the idea of giving back to the community.”
Yeagle volunteers at several organizations in addition to Habitat. “If someone isn’t volunteering, they are missing out,” he says. For him, the group has also become a support system. “When you retire, all your work buddies go away. You need to find a new social group. There are also those in the group like me who are widowers. I don’t like sitting in an empty house.”
But when it comes down to it, it’s really about people becoming homeowners. “It’s so heartwarming, so rewarding to see a family who never thought they would own their own home,” Yeagle says. “If you come to a home dedication and see the faces of the people receiving the home — that’s the paycheck.”
Meet the Stantons, the owners of Tulsa Habitat's 400th home
For the Stanton family, 2016 was a year of big changes and big challenges.
Johnthan and Johnisha Stanton were the parents of one daughter, with another on the way. Their small family nearly doubled when Johnthan’s sister died in a car crash and the Stantons took in her three children.
“We were living in a two-bedroom condo. It was pretty packed,” Johnisha says, so the process began for the family of seven to find a larger home.
“We tried different lending companies. We knew we needed more space, but financially we weren’t there,” she says. “We kind of needed a miracle.”
A friend knew about Tulsa Habitat for Humanity and told her to apply. They were accepted this past summer to be the homeowners of the organization’s 400th home.
Johnisha works in early childhood education at the Hutcherson YMCA, and Johnthan recently started his own alterations business, Johnny’s Sewing Co., so after their day jobs they worked on their new home as part of their required sweat equity hours.
“You realize how much it takes to put up a house,” Johnthan says, but working on it made it more special when they got to move in right before Christmas. “This is our house. It’s built specifically for our family. It will be in our family for hopefully generations.”
Larry Vitt, director of facilities and real estate, has worked at Tulsa Habitat for 18 years and has been present for 350 home dedications, including the Stantons’.
“It was a special home in a lot of ways,” Vitt says. “The highlight of that dedication was the family that received that home. It was the perfect family for our 400th home.”
Cameron Walker, Tulsa Habitat’s CEO, says that while he’s proud of the milestone, he wishes it had come sooner in the organization’s 30-year history.
“We’re building about 20 homes a year, but we get that many applications a week,” Walker says. “The need for quality, low-income housing is big in Tulsa.”
The Anne and Henry Zarrow Foundation recognized that need and gave Tulsa Habitat a $6.7 million grant to establish the Boomtown Development Co.
“In the next five years, we’ll go from 20 homes in a year to 150 homes a year,” he says, through the continued construction of not only single-family homes, but also the addition of townhomes and multi-family rental units.
“There are people who just aren’t ready for homeownership but still need a safe, well-maintained place to live while they reduce their debt and build up credit,”
Tulsa Habitat also is changing its financing model to better work with banks so financial institutions can offer the funding while Habitat staff still remain hands-on in servicing the lending, making the most of the well-established relationships between Habitat and its borrowers.
Although changes are underway, the mission has stayed the same: to give a hand up, not a hand out.
“They’re such an incredible organization to support you,” Johnisha says. “They do their part and they help you do your part. It’s not a handout. We have a second family now: our Habitat family.”
Tulsa Habitat for Humanity will host Rock the House 2018, the organization’s revamped annual fundraising gala, at 6 p.m., April 14, at the Cox Business Center, 100 Civic Center. It will include live music, dinner, cocktails and dancing. The event also will honor Heart of Habitat recipients Bo and Carrie Van Pelt and the Jimmie Swindler Spirit Award winner Dennis Lane, president of Thermal Windows. Tickets start at $150, with sponsorship opportunities between $2,000-$20,000. For more information, visit rockthehousetulsa.org.