Habitat for Humanity’s volunteer roster includes high-profile athletes who help bring more families home. Click on the cards below to read 13 individual stories and cast your vote for MVP!
Going … going … home!
Adrian Gonzalez hit 27 home runs last year for the Boston Red Sox. Beyond the applause at the stadium, each shot was also greeted with cheers by Habitat staffers and partner families throughout eastern Massachusetts.
That’s because for every homer that Boston’s 2011 All-Star first baseman hit, Habitat affiliates in the state received a donation. Gonzalez and his wife Betsy made the deal in collaboration with the Eastern Bank Charitable Foundation, and the partners tripled the eventual gift: At season’s end, eight Habitat affiliates evenly split an $80,000 donation to help serve more families.
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The drive to help
NASCAR driver Marcos Ambrose knows his way around a toolbox. “I like fixing things and working on cars, so (a) Habitat build is right up my alley,” Ambrose says.
The two-time Australian V8 Supercar champion managed to draw a lot of attention to a Trinity Habitat project in Fort Worth this spring. All he had to do was park his racecar in the driveway.
Volunteering on a build site for the second consecutive year, Ambrose spent an afternoon pounding nails alongside homeowner Tora Barnes. “My family and I are fortunate to live in a happy, healthy home,” Ambrose says, “and I’m glad (to) be a part of making that dream a reality for Ms. Barnes and her four children.”
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Ace support for Habitat projects
Over the past decade, quite a few professional women’s tennis players have traded in their rackets for tools. Former Australian Open and Wimbledon champion Amelie Mauresmo has served as a Habitat ambassador. Nadia Petrova, winner of 28 WTA titles, has volunteered on a Habitat build in Romania. And a collaboration between the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour and Whirlpool helped raise funds for more than 100 homes across Europe and Central Asia.
The highlight of the campaign was a Women Build in Warsaw, Poland, where Polish tennis sisters Agnieszka and Urszula Radwanska joined more than 50 women volunteers to mix concrete and work on a six-unit Habitat project. “It’s an honor to be a part of such a fantastic cause and be involved with Habitat for Humanity, helping underprivileged families across the world,” Agnieszka said. “I have great respect for all the volunteers and those working hard every day against poverty housing.”
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Thrilled to play, privileged to give
I absolutely loved playing football. Becoming a championship quarterback was a dream I pursued for a long time, and I will always be thankful for the career I enjoyed. I’m also eternally thankful that it gave my wife Brenda and me a platform to help others.
In 2008, flooding in Iowa devastated a lot of river communities in the state where Brenda and I both grew up. We got involved with Habitat’s local efforts there and have returned every year since to help Habitat build with families affected by the floods. We’ve raised funds and built alongside eager young volunteers in Cedar Rapids.
We’ve attended house dedications and prayed with new homeowners in various locations where my career has taken us, including St. Louis, New Jersey and Arizona. Through the foundation Brenda and I started, First Things First, we’ve also been privileged to help some first-time homeowners furnish their new houses with a program called Homes for the Holidays.
Brenda and I can appreciate the sweat equity that Habitat’s partner families put into creating a new home for their children. Brenda and I both came from humble beginnings, and we know what it’s like to struggle. When we met, my wife was a single mother raising two kids on little income. She has often shared with Habitat homeowners that she knows what it’s like in their shoes. We both remember the first house we were finally able to purchase together and what a moment of joy it was for us.
Watching how Habitat works reminds me of my playing days. As a football player, I understand the importance of teamwork in turning dreams into realities. I love seeing Habitat volunteers and neighbors team up with these family members to help them achieve their dream of living in a safe and decent home.
As Christians, we resonate with Habitat’s conviction that to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ we must love and care for one another. And it’s an open call to all who want to help! Habitat is a standing invitation for anyone to put their faith and love into action.
Brenda and I know that we are blessed to be in a position to help others. It’s a privilege to have the opportunity to give of yourself in a way that could help someone else for a lifetime. That’s a legacy far more lasting than any championship on a football field. — Kurt Warner
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A power player off the court
In 2009, Dallas Mavericks superstar Dirk Nowitzki volunteered on a Habitat build site in South Africa as a member of the NBA’s “Basketball without Borders” tour. The experience made an impression. Since then, through his personal foundation, Nowitzki has contributed $60,000 to Habitat projects in four African countries.
In Senegal, the German-born Nowitzki — an 11-time NBA All-Star who led the Mavericks to the NBA Championship in 2011 — has provided support that enabled the rehabilitation of 17 houses with low-income families in Keur Mbaye Fall, a suburb of Dakar. More recently, the Dirk Nowitzki Foundation has supported housing for orphans and vulnerable children in Malawi and Uganda and more urban home repairs in Senegal.
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Rugby legends give back
Malcolm O’Kelly appeared in more contests for the Irish national rugby team than anyone else in his generation — or any before. In his position as a lock, he provided the power in the heart of most scrums on the field.
But when O’Kelly travelled to Lusaka, Zambia, in June 2011 to build with Habitat for Humanity, he met a force even more powerful than he in Tibakombole Ngulube, a 56-year-old widowed grandmother. Living with three grandchildren in a small, makeshift shack that let in rain by the buckets and yet had not a single window for proper ventilation, Ngulube was determined to partner with Habitat to build a proper home for her family.
O’Kelly and Ngulube were joined by New Zealand native Brent Pope, a former rugby player and coach and now a popular commentator on Irish television. By week’s end, Pope knew that this couldn’t be a one-time thing. In June, Pope returned to Zambia, this time to a city called Ndola, to help more families find a new beginning. This time, even more Irish rugby legends joined in the trip, including Angus McKeen, Bernard Jackman and Paddy Johns — as well as a few passionate rugby fans.
“We have a real chance here to change more lives for the better and make a difference,” Pope says. “This is a chance to give something positive back and, with a little rugby muscle and some local knowledge, we can change peoples’ lives.”
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Super Bowl champs, Habitat volunteers
In October of 2010, Greg Jennings and James Jones joined several other Green Bay Packers to celebrate the dedication of a house built in partnership with the entire Green Bay team. The house became a home for Green Bay residents Salvador and Laura Robles, along with their four children.
“Habitat for Humanity has given me another opportunity to give someone something I did not have: stability and a place to call home,” James Jones says. “Greater Green Bay Habitat does tremendous work in our community and I’m happy to be a part of it.”
Jones, Jennings and their wives have both volunteered at additional builds and events. Jennings says it’s the direct connections to the hands-on work and the families involved that have made it meaningful for him. “I enjoy every moment, and I put in some hard work,” Jennings says. “The opportunity is immensely fulfilling, and I am truly grateful.”
The Packers’ Habitat involvement continued this May with a workday in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, that brought out several current and former Packers stars.
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Rebuilding Joplin, Missouri, and Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Earlier this summer, Major League Baseball, the Players Trust and State Farm announced a plan to build Habitat homes with families in Joplin and Tuscaloosa. In total, nine homes will be built as a result of the partnership — five in Joplin and four in Tuscaloosa, two of which were framed near Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium during July’s MLB All-Star Week.
Other efforts helping the two tornado-affected communities include:
“Thirty-five homes, seven teams, one mission” is the goal of the 2012 Governor’s Joplin Challenge, a partnership with Joplin Area Habitat and major Missouri athletic organizations. Participating groups include the St. Louis Rams, Kansas City Chiefs, St. Louis Cardinals, Kansas City Royals, St. Louis Blues, the Missouri Tigers sports teams and NASCAR representatives from Kansas Speedway.
This spring, Baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. made Joplin the first stop of an Energizer-sponsored multi-city volunteer tour to help build new homes and revitalize existing ones.
And in Tuscaloosa, the University of Alabama football program, led by head coach Nick Saban, has helped Habitat go on the offense. Saban and his wife Terry have sponsored 14 houses directly and helped enlist enthusiastic volunteers. Dana Dowling is once again a homeowner. “I absolutely, totally adore all the football players,” Dowling says. “They don’t know how many ways they gave to our family.”
Getting a kick out of volunteering
Julie Foudy helped usher in a golden era of women’s soccer in the United States — quite literally. During her career, the U.S. women won two Olympic gold medals and captured two World Cup titles.
Today, she runs the Julie Foudy Sports Leadership Academy, which teaches teenage girls leadership skills on the sports field, in their schools and in their communities. It’s that last part that has led to a relationship with Habitat East Bay in Oakland, California. Since 2008, Foudy and girls from her academy have participated in summer Women Builds.
Mary McCall is one of Habitat East Bay’s construction site supervisors. She says she has seen a younger generation of women introduced to Habitat and community service through Foudy’s academy builds. “It’s wonderful to work with groups of young women like Julie Foudy’s soccer camp,” McCall says. “To teach them that it’s not all that difficult to build or fix things, you just have to learn the steps. And once you’ve done it once, it’s that much easier the next time.”
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Fighting for a cause
Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao has held 10 different world titles as a boxer. He is widely recognized as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport. In his home country, the Philippines, he has been elected to serve as a congressman. And last summer, Pacquiao added Habitat Hero Ambassador to his resume.
The boxing legend had already been involved as a volunteer and advocate for Habitat’s work. Now, he has also given speeches and participated in public awareness campaigns, including this year’s inaugural, multi-country Youth BUILD.
Looking to the long-term, Pacquiao has donated land in his home province that will be used to build at least 100 Habitat homes. “My dream,” he says, “is that each family will live in a decent home and in safe and secure communities.”
The Sarangani project is part of Habitat’s four-year “I Build” campaign in Asia and the Pacific. Habitat Philippines and Pacquiao hope it will create a new community development model by providing innovative and sustainable housing solutions for low-income Filipino families.
Creating everyday miracles for Habitat partner families
Forty years after winning one of the most unexpected World Series championships in history, several members of the “Miracle Mets” reunited to help Habitat New York City finish a four-story affordable condominium complex in Brooklyn. The 2009 build accelerated completion of a 41-unit, LEED-certified building and established a new tradition.
Each year since, current and past Mets have been active with Habitat New York City. In 2010, local legends from the Mets 1986 World Series team, including Darryl Strawberry and Mookie Wilson, participated on a Brooklyn home build. In 2011, Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling — another pair of greats from the ’86 squad who now broadcast the team’s games — built with local volunteers and partner families on a new 12-home condominium build in Brooklyn.
The partnership has taken hold. Long before this summer’s latest build, Darling returned to a Habitat build site. “I have a chance to do something hands-on that helps out my fellow Brooklynites,” he said while helping to paint and repair a six-unit building on Valentine’s Day. “When I go home and put my head on the pillow, I know I have done a good deed. The best part is that for me, I am working alongside families that are going to own these apartments someday. (And) they are right next to me working harder than I am.”
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In 2010, shortly after the Vancouver Olympic Games, Caitlin Cahow and Liz Stephen joined fellow Olympians at a Habitat build in Washington, D.C., as part of the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Team for Tomorrow humanitarian relief effort.
Cahow had just won a silver medal as a member of the U.S. women’s hockey team. Stephen had just competed in her first Olympics Games as a cross-country skier.
For Cahow and Stephen, who both had volunteered on Habitat worksites in high school, the build was a chance to reconnect with Habitat’s mission. “I feel as athletes we’re a bit self-centered,” Stephen says, laughing. “The training, the focus. It’s always on you. And that can get boring being about yourself all the time! So it was good to get everyone to do something different with the focus on others.”
In D.C., Stephen paired up with hockey player Erika Lawler to build a retaining wall. “I’m five-foot-two and Erika’s probably five-foot tops, but we managed to build a wall together!” Stephen says. “Most of us don’t do carpentry on the side, so we have plenty of questions! But the leaders are always patient. It’s a great learning experience. And for athletes, a great, active way to contribute.”
Cahow has stayed active with Habitat. The one-time USA Hockey Women’s Player of the Year spent some time in Minneapolis for training last year. While there, she read about a Women Build taking place with Twin Cities Habitat and volunteered for several weeks before anyone figured out her background. As the build progressed, Cahow convinced teammates who were training in the area to come and get involved. “It’s that sense of team accomplishment that brings people back to Habitat for Humanity,” she says. “It definitely has for me. Every build is different. New challenges, new people. Everybody has a different story to share.”
Be a game changer!
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One easy thing that you could do right now through September: “Go to Bat” for Habitat. The 2012 State Farm Go To Bat program awards $18,000 per week to one of four charities and a trip for two to the 2012 MLB World Series to an individual winner each week. Register, select Habitat as your favorite charity, read the rules of the game and play today!