LAKE CHARLES, La. — Soldiers from Fort Polk's Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers program woke up Oct. 7 and, as the sun began to rise, were on the road to Lake Charles.
These 10 Soldier volunteers signed up to work with the Habitat for Humanity program. BOSS Soldiers and other volunteers and organizations partner with Habitat daily to build or improve places people can call home.
Habitat for Humanity, according to www.habitat.org, is a global nonprofit housing organization working in nearly 1,400 communities across the United States and in about 70 countries around the world. Habitat’s vision is of a world where everyone has a decent place to live. Habitat works toward this vision by building strength, stability and self-reliance in partnership with people and families in need of decent and affordable homes. Habitat homeowners help build their own homes alongside volunteers and pay an affordable mortgage.
The BOSS Soldiers were originally slated to work at a home building site, but were told at the last minute there was difficulty with the work site.
Instead, they were redirected to work at a Habitat for Humanities ReStore Store and Donation Center. Habitat for Humanity ReStores are nonprofit home improvement stores and donation centers that sell new and gently used furniture, appliances, home accessories, building materials and more to the public at a fraction of the retail price. The Soldiers took the change in stride and set out to help however they could.
Kyleen Simon, Lake Charles ReStore director, said Habitat for Humanity is a hand up, not a hand out. “Everything that is donated and sold at the ReStore goes back into Habitat for Humanity to support the mission,” she said.
Habitat for Humanity’s housing mission is for people who can’t afford a conventional mortgage, said Simon. “They don’t pay any interest on the loans. Habitat holds the notes and loans until they are paid off. Then the homes go straight into the homeowner’s name. It’s a home ownership program that gets people out of housing projects, off the streets and into homes,” she said.
Simon said without volunteers like BOSS Soldiers, the ReStore sometimes has to hire workers from labor companies, which takes money away from the mission. “Volunteers like the BOSS Soldiers are extremely helpful. I know I don’t have to babysit a Soldier and that’s wonderful. They are trained well and can handle the physical labor, not to mention they are willing to get the job done,” said Simon.
Pfc. Bianca Ortiz, 710th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, participated in the BOSS volunteer event. “I wanted to help out in the community. I’ve done stuff like this before and I think it’s nice. The work we did helped the employees and volunteers at the ReStore and saved them a lot of heavy lifting. I will definitely be doing this again,” she said.
An enthusiasm for volunteering is something Sgt. Gregor Francis, Fort Polk Dental Health Activity, tries to promote in others. “I was so excited about this opportunity that I tried to get everyone to volunteer because this is amazing,” said.
For Francis, lending a helping hand through volunteering is important because he said a human being’s greatest trait is to care. “If everyone cared about others, the world would be a better place. So, if I can help, I will. I love doing it. It feels good.”
Though Francis said he was a bit disappointed at first about not working on a housing site, he soon changed his mind. “I wanted to work on a building site, but now I know about the ReStore and I think it’s great. I’m glad I got to help them out today,” he said.
The day was a huge success, according to Spc. Kiana Delaney, Medical Department Activity. Delaney is the Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers vice president.
“This is a good turn out for volunteers and I think we accomplished our mission of helping Habitat for Humanity with the work we did today at their Restore facility,” she said.
Delaney said the Habitat for Humanity organization consistently has work for volunteers to do. “They always have something going on and are excited about our help. One of the great things about working with Habitat for Humanity is that you don’t need a lot of experience, you just have to want to help and do it,” she said.
It’s the beginning of a partnership in which BOSS plans to continue by volunteering for future work site projects, according to Cpl. Bobbie Jamerson, BOSS president.