Mike Heller is no stranger in Habitat circles. With 17 years of volunteerism and at least a day on over 200 Habitat homes under his belt, chances are high that you’ve run into Mike if you’ve done some volunteering on a Habitat for Humanity construction site.
And while, yes, most of Mike’s time as a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity has taken place on the construction site, he’s been known to branch out as well. “Mike always seems to say ‘yes’ to Habitat,” says Patti Wang Cross, our PR & Events Manager. “Whatever the volunteer task, site, or speaking engagement, Mike’s always eager to lend a hand.”
Indeed, Mike’s latest volunteer job has him off the construction site and in our brand-new Oakland Playhouse Workshop location in East Oakland, right behind the Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Oakland. Moving from its previous home on the other side of town, the new Oakland workshop boasts more space, ample natural light, and close proximity to one of the best home improvement outlets you can find (we might be biased!).
Before we can fully welcome back our Playhouse Prep volunteers and start hosting corporate volunteer experiences at the new workshop, we need to ready the space’s infrastructure. And one of the critical items on that checklist was the electrical work required to get the workshop wired up and ready to handle the hum of many tools.
“I most often volunteer at construction sites,” Mike says, “but thought the opportunity to improve the facilities at our Oakland workshop was important.” Knowing that his work and expertise would power up the workshop to prepare it for volunteers and team-building group activities, Mike sees this effort as more “public-facing” than his usual volunteer role.
“Mike has led teams in installing electrical in two of our Playhouse Workshops,” points out Gus Cancro, Site Supervisor for the Playhouse Program. “His attention to detail, great sense of humor, and efficiency make him an ideal volunteer. Mike’s work on the new workshop has been extremely important, and will enable us to offer volunteer opportunities with Habitat for Humanity, along with team building events that raise critical funds for us.”
What makes Mike keep saying “yes” to Habitat? “I am very supportive of the main mission,” he says, “namely addressing the need for affordable housing, and of the way Habitat does it, in particular the ‘sweat equity requirement.'” Mike appreciates the fact that Habitat’s approach involves our clients as partners and takes a long-term view. “It’s a parallel to the ‘don’t hand out fish sandwiches, but teach people how to fish’ concept,” he says.
And Mike is always keen to share the Habitat love by speaking to groups about Habitat. “I point out that you can help your community in many ways, but the best avenues to create long-term benefits for families are education and housing,” he says. “And Habitat’s approach to housing is all about making the homeowner successful, not only with the satisfaction of helping build their new home but with financial and other counseling as well.”
In his 17 years of volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, Mike has accumulated many memories. But one that still stands out to this day is his time spent with a future homeowner at a Habitat neighborhood on Edes Avenue in Oakland, just blocks from the new workshop. “He was a middle-aged man raising two granddaughters when he was not at his job as a cook in a local hospital,” Mike remembers. The homeowner’s legacy of determination and industriousness – including joining the Navy at age 17, supporting his mother and siblings, and raising his granddaughters – struck a chord in Mike, and as he says, “It was an honor to help, in a small way, to recognize all of his hard work over the years.”
We’re so grateful to have Mike in the Habitat family, along with his dedication, generosity, wide smile, and capable hands. If you’d like to get involved with Habitat as well, learn how to be a part of our work!