Dan Renneke and his wife, Diane, are president and treasurer, respecitively, of Habitat for Humanity of West Central Iowa, which is adding Brush With Kindness home-improvement program. The Habitat affiliate serves Audubon, Carroll, Crawford and Shelby counties.
Dan Renneke and his wife, Diane, are president and treasurer, respecitively, of Habitat for Humanity of West Central Iowa, which is adding Brush With Kindness home-improvement program. The Habitat affiliate serves Audubon, Carroll, Crawford and Shelby counties.
May 16, 2013

Small projects, too, can make big differences. With that thought, Habitat for Humanity of West Central Iowa has launched Brush With Kindness.

Habitat for Humanity is possibly most commonly known for building decent, affordable homes for low-income families.

But, according to West Central Iowa affiliate president Dan Renneke, in 1999, an affiliate in Minneapolis, Minn., expanded its services by helping people who already own their homes make improvements and repairs.

Habitat for Humanity International has given its affiliates the go-ahead for similar programs. Today, the Habitat affiliate for Iowa's Boone and Greene Counties has become a model for how a home-improvement program should work. The program is especially important for extending Habitat's reach into small communities.

Renneke, of Carroll, said the West Central Iowa Affiliate, which serves Audubon, Carroll, Crawford and Shelby counties, received an inquiry about whether the home-improvement program was offered here.

"We brought it up at a board of directors meeting, researched the program and decided it was something we wanted to get involved in," Renneke recounted.

The West Central Iowa Affiliate began in 1999 and has maintained a one-home-a-year building pace. The affiliate is beginning its 14th build this year for a family in Carroll and has received strong support from volunteers on its builds, Renneke said.

"We thought this would be a good opportunity for people who want just short-term involvement on housing projects," Renneke said. "A lot of these projects we could do in two or three weeks, whereas, with a house you're looking at six or seven months to complete."

The local affiliate has just begun accepting applications for improvement projects.

The application form lists a variety of work that may be done under Brush With Kindness - exterior painting/siding, exterior carpentry repairs, yard work and landscaping, general cleaning, accessibility modifications (such as wheelchair ramp, handrails, grab bars), and repair or replace doors and windows.

Renneke said applications will be accepted for just outside work. The affiliate decided not to do roof or inside work. Renneke said applicants' homes will be examined to make sure it's work that the affiliate can handle.

Brush With Kindness will operate the same as Habitat's home-building projects. Homeowners must meet income guidelines and will make monthly payments on a zero-percent loan. The Habitat for Humanity website says the organization "is a nonprofit, ecumenical Christian ministry founded on the conviction that every man, woman and child should have a decent, safe and affordable place to live." Habitat has more than 1,500 local affiliates in the United States and more than 80 national organizations around the world. Those affiliates have helped to build or repair over 600,000 houses and serve more than 3 million people worldwide.

Brush With Kindness applicants must be homeowners. The program is not intended for landlords or rental homes.

Renneke sees Brush With Kindness helping people who because of financial circumstances can't receive bank loans for repairs or improvements, yet they don't qualify for assistance from Region 12 or HUD programs.

"You look around town and realize there are a lot of houses where people could use a little help fixing up the outside to make them look nice," Renneke said. "A lot of people get caught in that situation where now they own a home but they don't have the money to fix it up nice. But they make too much to qualify for some of the other programs."

Habitat will provide applicants estimates based just on cost of materials. There's no labor charge. Applicants can consider the estimate and decide whether to go ahead with an entire project or just part of it.

"We let them pick and choose," Renneke said.

He noted that also like Habitat home builds, recipients also must put in "sweat equity" helping with the project.

"It's not a giveaway program," Renneke said. "It's something where you're going to put in some sweat equity hours to help with the project. They (recipients) learn something out of it too."

Anybody interested with Brush With Kindness application or volunteerism may contact Renneke at 830-2121 or his wife, Diane, Habitat affiliate treasurer, at 790-7443.

Brush With Kindness is modeled after a program started last year by Habitat for Humanity of Boone and Greene Counties.

In fact, that program, called Helping Hands, is so successful, that Habitat for Humanity International has made it a model for all other affiliates. Boone and Greene Counties' Habitat executive director Erich Kretzinger, who lives between Ogden and Boone, has given presentations on Helping Hands to affiliates in Iowa and across the U.S.

Habitat affiliates in urban areas have done neighborhood revitalizations, such as Rock the Block in Des Moines, Kretzinger said, "But Habitat has not had a lot of success in rural parts of the country because it just hadn't found the model that works that meets Habitat guidelines."

But the Boone and Greene affiliate apparently has found a way, and Kretzinger has been sharing his information with other affiliates.

"All are fashioning after what we did last year," Kretzinger said.

In Greene County last year, Habitat did not build a home, but refurbished four homes.

"It went so well, we're doing that exclusively in both our counties this year," Kretzinger said.

Kretzinger said Helping Hands particularly fits rural counties such as Greene. Since they were started in the mid-1990s, the Boone and Greene affiliates have built or rehabilitated 23 homes. The two combined as one affiliate in 2010.

With Helping Hands, Habitat can have a big impact in small communities where it may not be practical to build a new home, Kretzinger said.

"We were trying to get out of building just in Boone, Jefferson, the bigger towns," he said.

"You may not build a Habitat house in Breda, as an example," he said, "but you can go repair a house, and it's maybe a three- or four-weekend project instead of a nine- or 10-month building project.

"The nice thing is you can be doing one in Breda at the same time you're doing one in Coon Rapids and one in Manning and so forth. With a house it's linear. You have to do one thing then another. Whereas, with this you could have 10 projects going on the same day. People are doing all different things but getting the projects done."

Under Helping Hands, improvements may include roof work (just on single-story homes), siding, windows, paint, trim, landscaping spruce-up, and adding handicap accessibility.

Kretzinger cited a home done in Scranton last year for the dramatic difference such work can make.

That project included new siding, new roof, new doors, new windows, construction of front and back stoops, and repair and paint the foundation.

"They did all that, and it was less than $10,000 cost to the homeowner," Kretzinger said. "Before and after, it was quite amazing."

And all the workers on the project were first-time Habitat volunteers, Kretzinger noted.

The recipients paid for the materials, received an interest-free loan and were required to put in sweat equity. However, Kretzinger said, if recipients are senior citizens or unable to work for some reason, family and friends can work on their behalf.

The sweat-equity requirement, Kretzinger remarked, "is in keeping with the Habitat motto of a hand-up and not a handout."

"Boone and Greene Habitat directors are reviewing numerous applications for Helping Hands projects this year.

"One of the biggest challenges," Kretzinger said, "is that some houses are too-far-gone, and that's a tough conversation to have with someone. Their house is not worth the work, it just shouldn't be lived in."

Kretzinger said the Habitat financial model has succeeded because of its sustainability.

"Every year, you start with a good size amount of income that we know is coming in, that we can work from, to go back out to repair or build homes."