By Andy McKeever
05:47PM / Friday, October 20, 2017
Bonnie Hayden shares her story not just to highlight the short-term impacts Habitat for Humanity has one people's lives, but the long-term ones, too.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — To understand what Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity means for Bonnie Hayden, one must understand where she was when she first got involved.
"We came from a big mess," Hayden said.
She and her two sons were renting an apartment that had bugs, animals, and rotting floors. The landlord wasn't responsive and stuck her without heat one winter.
And they no longer slept in one bedroom after somebody had been murdered just beyond the window.
And,"We were sick. We were all very sick."
Her son Bobby kept missing school. Her other son Andrew had his lungs collapse twice in 30 days and he ended up graduating high school with a chest tube.
"We felt pretty worthless. We couldn't get out. We were stuck. Family and friends were like 'gee, we wish we could help you.' It was hopeless and didn't have a clue," Hayden said.
Her family and friends couldn't or wouldn't find a way to help. Eventually, somebody suggested Habitat for Humanity. And when things had gotten so dire that Hayden said she was "at a point I was looking for a refrigerator box and a tarp," something happened. She started getting calls from Habitat for Humanity.
"I didn't know who they were but they talked to me. For the first time in my life, someone knows I am here," Hayden said.
And then the call that shocked her, the one saying her family was chosen for a house. She entered the program, which includes financial literacy and working alongside a coach to straighten out finances. She had debts to pay and was struggling and overwhelmed with the work it takes to get her financial house in order.
But it all came together. She remembers cooking for the crew working on her new home. And her sons putting in the volunteer hours. And in 2014, the dedication came.
"It felt so strange. I felt like a queen. This house was a palace," Hayden said.
But that wasn't the end for Hayden. It wasn't just the house. It wasn't just the financial coaching. It wasn't just the empowerment. Months after moving into the new home, she went for a regular doctor's appointment and her heart condition was doing better. He heart was stronger, her breathing was better.
Meanwhile, Bobby stopped getting sick. Andrew finished up one final surgery and has been better since. And they both are now working full-time jobs. In a few months, together they will all be taking their first family vacation.
Incoming President Thomas Whalen plans to expand the organization into Dalton by building a home there in the next year.
"When you build a home, you are giving a firm foundation that leads to improved health, improved employment, and improved education. That's what we are really all about because if we all do better, we all do better," Executive Director Carolyn Valli said.
Hayden's story was shared with volunteers at Thursday's annual dinner. The organization is known mostly for its home building program, but also works on tax preparation, and runs the Re-Store and financial workshops. The group has piloted programs this year and has been tightening its ties with other service organizations.
"One of our goals and objectives over the last two years is to reduce the silos in our community. It is to make sure every person touched by Habitat or other non-profits gets all of the resources at one time so they can move forward into the future," Valli said. "We work better when we all work together."
Valli said hours upon hours of volunteer hours in the last year have gone into helping those in the community.
"It has been an incredible ride this year. We had 22,031 hours of volunteerism. And that is not all of the hours because some of you don't always sign in on the sheets. If we equated that to money that would be $418,551," Valli said.
Outgoing Board of Directors President Chris Moon praised the volunteers in all of the programs.
"One annual highlight I like to exercise is the 48, almost 50 teams, that pulled together to participate in not only woman building but our regularly scheduled construction days. We had 48 teams and a lot of these teams were from businesses," Moon said.
The work has been so satisfying to that incoming President Thomas Whalen doesn't want to change a thing. With stories like Hayden's, a docket lined up for others to have the same experience, and Treasurer H. Jay Bailey reporting the organization is ending the year in the black, Whalen plans to let the organization continue on its path.
"We're hoping the tradition of Habitat continues. We are increasing the number of people being served by Habitat both with our financial workshops, our housing efforts, and we hope to continually help folks in our community. We are now reaching out beyond the city of Pittsfield to surrounding towns," Whalen said.
In the next year, Habitat will be building a home in Dalton, complete and ongoing project on Clarendon Street, and start a project on Deming.
"The true heart of Habitat for Humanity is the volunteers. We wouldn't be able to do anything without the volunteers," Whalen said.