It has been a quarter-century since a chapter of Habitat for Humanity International first called the Chippewa Valley Home. And while that chapter remains small, the staff and volunteers are looking to a bigger and brighter future. The Chippewa Valley Habitat for Humanity has just this year changed locations and opened a retail store all with the aim of stabilizing the organization’s financial outlook and, if all goes well, allowing them to have an even bigger impact on the community.
The store, officially called a Restore by Habitat for Humanity, specializes in selling furniture, appliances and other discounted building materials at a significant savings to customers. The merchandise is all donated, so most of it is gently used but some of it will still be brand new. On the other hand, the Restore doesn’t sell anything like clothes or pots and pans.
“We don’t sell the knick-knacky stuff,” Chippewa Valley Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Aaron Czappa said.”
All the proceeds from the store are folded right back into the organization’s budget for helping community members find housing.
Czappa, who has been leading the Chippewa Valley Habitat for Humanity for more than three years, has made the project of establishing the Restore his main focus since he first got the job. In fact, that’s why he was hired. For years the Chippewa Valley chapter had been fluctuating between having paid staff and being run by all volunteers. And despite Eau Claire’s population of more than 65,000 and the organization serving a 30-mile radius, the chapter remained one of the smallest in the Habitat for Humanity network. Eventually the organizations board of directors decided it was time to expand.
Czappa hopes the Restore, located on North Clairemont Avenue just north of Menomonie Street in Eau Claire, will help do just that.
Traditionally, each chapter of Habitat for Humanity has stood on its own in terms of finances. The larger organization offers no financial support. That said, Czappa explained that the Chippewa Valley chapter has relied on various grants and donations to keep operating.
“That’s not always the most stable source for financing,” he said. “There’s always more work to do for every nonprofit than the money that’s available. You never know when the next grant is going to come in.”
Czappa hopes the Restore will provide a long-term, sustainable revenue source that the Chippewa Valley Habitat for Humanity hasn’t had before. “We will not only be able to support and maintain the mission but we will be able to build additional houses every year.”
In the future, the Restore’s inventory of donated goods may also be used directly in home construction projects, allowing Czappa to stretch his budget even farther.
“Anything we can use in our store to help our building programs to save both the homeowner and Habitat money we will do,” Czappa said.
Eventually, the organization would like to be able to build two homes at a time instead of the one project per year that they’ve been averaging.
Even though the store only officially opened on July 6, business has already been bustling and the sales floor is jammed with all kinds of furniture and appliances. Still, Czappa suggested that he’s counting on a continuing increase in sales over the next six months.
At the beginning of this year, Czappa hired former volunteer Nick Gross to manage the Restore. But Gross has been involved in much more than that. He was heavily invested in most of the planning of the store, too.
“It’s been a long process getting here,” Gross said. Gross comes from a background in sales so he’s no stranger to moving merchandise, even so, he said he’s been having a great experience since joining the staff in January.
“It’s been such a breath of fresh air,” Gross said of working at the Restore. “It’s phenomenal to see the community so involved.”
Besides the Restore, Habitat for Humanity will continue to do the job that has made it a household name: building houses for families in need. Despite this familiarity though, not everybody knows how the whole process works.
“We believe in a hand up, not a hand out,” Czappa said, explaining that partner families aren’t given the homes for free. The homes are sold to the family on an interest-free 30-year mortgage. Habitat for Humanity holds the loan so when the loan is paid off, Habitat for Humanity takes that money and puts it towards another project. Obviously, no interest is a huge boon to the purchasing family, but additionally because the house is built with donated and discount material by volunteers the overall cost is significantly lower than any other home on the market.
“Most of these families pay more for taxes than they do on their mortgage,” Czappa said.
Additionally, the families served must work 400 hours as a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity as part of the agreement. These hours are split between their own home project and another construction project.
Since its founding in 1991 The Chippewa Valley Habitat for Humanity has helped 43 families secure safe and affordable homes. Most of those families have been part of new build projects. Recently, Habitat for Humanity has completed a five-bedroom home for a family in Menomonie and before that renovated a house in Chippewa Falls for a family with special needs children. And while the organization isn’t building any homes this year — taking time out to establish the Restore — the next project, slated for 2018, will be a new construction home in Osseo.
Off course this Chippewa Valley chapter is just a small part of a much larger organization. Habitat for Humanity International was founded in 1976 and in the 40 years since has helped nearly 10 million people around the world find affordable housing. Additionally, the organization collaborates with about 1.8 million volunteers annually.
Moving their offices and setting up the store has been the primary focus for the organization this year. That’s why no new construction projects were started during the 2017 building season.
All told, everything Czappa, his staff and volunteers have going on right now is all geared toward achieving a consistent, stable future where helping even more people is the name of the game. And that’s the main message Czappa wants the public to know. “Habitat for Humanity is alive and working in the Chippewa Valley,” he said.