Partnership Profile

Habitat for Humanity of Southeast Ohio

Foundation Support

Since 2000, the Osteopathic Heritage Foundation of Nelsonville has awarded more than $200,000 to Habitat for Humanity of Southeast Ohio (and related county-based affiliates), providing 10 families with safe, affordable housing and increased economic self-sufficiency. 

Mr. Kenneth Oehlers, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Southeast Ohio, spoke about the organization's impact in the region.

Why is the work of Habitat for Humanity of Southeast Ohio so important in the communities you serve? 

In Southeast Ohio, one in four families is forced to decide between paying for rent, food, medical bills or transportation to work. This burden forces families to make tough decisions daily that have a lasting negative impact on their lives, their children, and their communities.

Habitat for Humanity of Southeast Ohio focuses on home ownership as its solution to affordable housing. By offering no-interest mortgages and accepting sweat equity as a down payment, Habitat makes affordable home ownership opportunities available to families who would otherwise not qualify for a mortgage.

How many families have acquired homes and been able to remain in those homes?

From 1990 through 2015, we built 59 homes for families in six different counties in Southeast Ohio. Of these, 45 families are currently paying a mortgage, 12 have paid their loans in full, and we've had only two defaults. These numbers are typical for Habitat programs, and our success rate is very good when compared to the banking world.

In addition to affordable housing, your programs also include financial literacy services and a social enterprise and zero-waste initiative. Tell us more about these efforts.

Families participate in a financial counseling and budget management class provided through a partnership with the Consumer Credit Counseling Service in Parkersburg, West Virginia. Occupants are also trained in home maintenance and repair before moving into their new homes.

The Habitat Restore is our social enterprise, which serves three purposes—income generation, the reduction of landfill waste, and the opportunity to sell materials at discounted prices to the community. The Restore in Athens is open to the public, and every year we divert 150 tons of landfill waste and put it to use in the county. We recently opened a second store in Zanesville, which is twice the size of the Athens store, and we expect to divert 300 tons of landfill waste. The stores have been very successful, and we've moved from being open for a limited number of hours to being open five days a week. The store in Athens now generates an average profit of $60,000 a year. We hope to see this number increase in the years to come.

In addition to the sweat equity of families, financial contributions, and in-kind donations, volunteers are at the heart of Habitat for Humanity. What do volunteers mean to the program? 

Volunteers offer time, talent, or treasure. In our case, our volunteers provide all three—we call it catching Habititis. Our staff is focused on engaging the right kind of volunteers and creating a comfortable and fun environment so volunteers feel appreciated and rewarded. We emphasize they help change a family's life.

The nature of Habitat's work is such that we can't help families or build homes without our volunteers. Every house requires up to 3,200 volunteer hours to complete. Three years ago, our volunteers worked one day a week, and it took us 52 weeks to build a house. Now, we have volunteers working four days a week, and we are able to build a house in 18 weeks.

In 2015, for the first time, we participated in a Habitat Building Blitz. With support from OHFN, Rocky Brands, and OhioHealth O'Bleness Hospital, we scheduled a new build in Nelsonville. We were then approached by the Habitat Road Trip Crazies—50 volunteers from around the country who work with communities to help put up homes in a weekend. Rocky and O'Bleness committed more than 150 volunteers to the project, and with some advance help from Hocking College on building walls, we completed 80 percent of the construction. In two days, we accomplished what would normally take us ten weeks.

What we experienced changed our mentality. Having the Habitat Road Trip Crazies here, being able to watch the build happen, and seeing that the same high level of quality was maintained provided us with an opportunity to become educated and entertain new possibilities.

Moving forward, blitz builds will be incorporated into our construction schedule. This and other efficiencies are essential because the need is so great. We have enough families seeking assistance to keep us fully occupied for the next three years.

What are the organization's goals over the next five years?

We have set a goal of serving 40 families per year through the end of 2019. This represents significant growth, and in order to make this possible, we are working on a number of fronts. First, we are reaching out to area counties to set up community committees so people understand we are here to help and want to support the community in the long term.

These committees are also essential in developing the resources needed to improve the lives of families in their communities.

We also need to address our current space limitations. Our warehouse storage is very limited, and our office doesn't allow for any additional growth. We are currently working on solutions, as we know we would experience significant savings if we were able to purchase building materials in bulk.

We are also seeking opportunities to expand our family services program as we see the need for increased support and training to help families succeed in their efforts to become self-sufficient. Related to that, we are looking at offering secondary services—such as consumer credit counseling, which is currently unavailable and much needed in Athens County.

What is the best thing about your job?

There are so many good things about my job. It allows me to serve the community and work with people to help them become who they are meant to be and recognize their own potential. I am excited about speaking to businesses about altruism and how they can give back to their communities. And I love being able to empower volunteers to do things that they have never done before—like climbing up a ladder and putting shingles on a roof—in order to help families. All these opportunities to help people do things they never thought they could do are really exciting.

  • Habitat for Humanity of Southeast Ohio

  • 525 W. Union St., Athens, OH 45701
  • (740) 592-0032