Building on Faith with Rockwood First Congregational and Thrivent

Volunteers make up 80 percent of Habitat for Humanity’s workforce. That’s why it can be a daunting task to try and recruit people to donate their time. It sometimes takes a special event to remind both the affiliate and potential volunteers of why Habitat does the work that it does.

This month that event was Building on Faith, sponsored by Thrivent Financial. The month-long campaign sought to connect Habitat affiliates with their local faith partners and encouraged volunteers to be the hands and feet of Jesus in their neighborhoods by helping to build on a Habitat house.

That message struck a chord with Pastor Dave Pniewski of Rockwood First Congregational Church in Rockwood, Mich. He said that upon receiving his invitation to Building on Faith from Monroe County’s Habitat affiliate, he felt compelled to do something. “I wanted to make sure our congregation could do something locally,” Pastor Dave said.

Building on Faith was not Pastor Dave’s first brush with Habitat. After Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005, he traveled there on a mission trip and worked with Habitat to help rebuild the hard-hit 9th ward.

When the opportunity came for him to work with Habitat again, he knew he had to involve his church members.

“We talked about it every week and how important it was for us to get out there,” he said. “We felt that everybody could participate.”

Pastor Dave discussed the Habitat build with his church nearly every Sunday morning, leading up to their event on Oct. 6.

“I prayed that we would have enough builders, and people who were skilled enough, to make an impact on this project,” he said.

It would appear that Pastor Dave’s prayers were answered; 24 people from his church volunteered on their build day. The group helped build on Habitat Monroe’s 101st house in the county, located in South Rockwood.

Pastor Dave was even able to recruit people who were not yet members of his church, like the Bechtel family, Andrew, Melissa, and 5-year-old Timothy.

The family had hoped there would be something their child could help with during the build day, but unfortunately, volunteers must be at least 16 to be on a Habitat build site.

Timothy was immediately distraught upon hearing this news.

“He was crushed,” Andrew said. “‘I wanted to build a house with you, dad,’” Timothy told his father, according to Andrew.

Timothy’s tears didn’t last long, fortunately, he cheered up once Habitat Monroe’s Volunteer Manager Jennifer Hockenberger gave him a Halloween-themed Pez dispenser while they were on the site.

Part of the reason that Andrew brought Timothy to the build site is that he was hoping to get in some much needed father-son bonding. Andrew is an assistant manager in the steel industry and works such a hectic schedule that he once worked a 22-hour day. He gets minimal vacation time during the year and only if it works out with his company. The church’s build day just happened to be the first day of his first vacation this year. Despite this being his time off, Andrew decided to donate his time to Habitat anyway.

“We’re blessed with what we have and not everyone is,” Andrew said.

Andrew and his wife Melissa both know what it’s like to need a hand up towards home-ownership. After they got married, they purchased a home that was merely the bare bones and nearly inhabitable. With the help of their friends, they rebuilt their home.

“My friends helped me out so I thought we should do the same for others,” Andrew said.

Andrew and Melissa operated a saw for most of the day, helping the other volunteers by cutting materials with specific measurements. Andrew said that even though it was a slower pace than he’s used to at his high-pressure job, they both found the experience enjoyable.

“It was enjoyable to see other people learning and growing from it,” Andrew said, “We kinda look at things like we should always be learning.”

It would seem that many of the church’s volunteers learned new things that day.

“At least two-thirds of us had not done any construction before, nothing like putting up a wall,” said Michael Stiles, a volunteer with the church.

“It was pretty amazing they could take a group of a dozen of us, and actually with minimal guidance make us productive,” he said.  

Michael has volunteered with other causes but had never built with Habitat before that day.

“It was really cool because I got to see a tangible result,” Michael said of the experience.

Michael’s task that day was to help wrap the house’s walls for insulation. He said that now when the house is finished, he can look back and know that that wall is insulated because of his work.

Even though the group worked with uncooperative weather, varying skill sets of volunteers and crying 5-year-olds, Pastor Dave was pleased with the experience overall and said that he would recommend to any church that they get outside of church walls and volunteer in their community.

“We worked as a team and I think that was exciting,” he said, “many hands make light the work, that's the strength.”

Many helping hands are certainly the strength of Habitat Monroe. During Building on Faith month, over 100 people volunteered their time and collectively put in over 900 hours of work.

Habitat Monroe would like to thank Pastor Dave, the volunteers of Rockwood First Congregational church and all of the volunteers who contributed during Building on Faith.