Habitat for Humanity in Whatcom County

Inka Von: Volunteer Hero

We are immensely grateful to our generous volunteers who donate their time across the different spheres of our organization. They are an instrumental part of the Habitat model and we could not accomplish our mission without their help. As the saying goes – many hands make for light work.

Inka Von has been donating her time to us for a little over a year. Rather than spend her time on the construction site, she keeps our crew firing on all cylinders by bringing exceptional homemade lunches twice each month. She also helps out with events, and is part of our Raise the Roof Auction Committee.

Although she had heard about Habitat for Humanity years ago, she only started volunteering after a trip to our store. She recalls, “I had just moved to Washington from San Francisco with my partner, and I needed some things, you know, like furniture and so on. Courtney was always extremely helpful. She helped carry the stuff and I mean, everybody else too, but she was always on the floor and I remember that she was always very friendly. And then one day I heard that there were opportunities to volunteer.”

The biggest draw for her was Habitat’s practices around homeowner selection and participation in the construction process. Von says, “I feel respect in the transaction of, you know, people helping volunteering, and the people that are on the receiving end, it just feels like a really respectful collaboration.”

This “respectful collaboration” alludes to our philosophy of A Hand Up Not A Hand Out. Von touches on this again and says she likes that we “help people in need find a home” but more so that “the process of that is where habitat gives a hand up but not just the hand out.”

She appreciates that “the people that in the end will get to live in one of these homes actually have to contribute to the home…I understand that they have to be able to pay a mortgage. They have to have jobs, you know, there’s certain parameters that have to be met by the family and I think it’s, that’s what makes it so, in my opinion, healthy.”

“It’s not just the expectation that I get something for free,” Von continued. “I feel it’s more like a collaboration, you know, between people in need and the people that can volunteer or help and that there are expectations sort of on both ends. I like that.”

Additionally, she appreciates the quality of homes that our affiliate builds, adding, “I mean, I’ve seen what’s going up there at Telegraph. I find it respectful, you know. People get to live in a decent home. They get a chance to get their dreams fulfilled and to raise a family.”

“I think it’s a dream of a lot of people to, I mean, especially in light of all the homelessness right now, have a home and not everybody really can, for whatever reasons, [afford] a mortgage, for instance,” she continued. “But they still can, you know, work and have a job and be responsible homeowners and with habitat, they just get a chance.”

“I know watching the homes go up that it is a long process. It’s not an overnight, quick fix. But that also encourages me to try and be fairly regular in my volunteering and just think about how this is all a long process, you know, like putting the foundation down of a house and slowly, slowly building it up brick by brick,” Von says.

In her words, “What a gift really for a family who will be lucky to get that home, you know. It’s like a lifeline and it’s for a lifetime.”

“It's like a lifeline and it's for a lifetime.”

When asked what she enjoys about the type of volunteering she does with us, she notes how exciting it is to play a small part and be one of the many helping hands building affordable homes in Whatcom County. She adds, “Home has always been important to me and I’ve been fortunate that I have always been able to have a roof over my head. I’ve raised a family with children and they’re all grown and out of the house now. So it’s nearly like feeding a family to me. You know, I mean, it’s a little bit bigger than family but, um, it does kind of make me think of home, you know, food is part of home.”

Deciding what to cook each week has become a stimulating challenge over the course of the last year, especially as she’s begun to experiment with vegetarian and vegan dishes. She describes two factors that play a role in her decision making, saying, “I understand that there’s a bunch of vegetarians there. So I used to always cook with meat so it’s kind of an interesting challenge for me. I’m thinking ‘ok, they’re working hard all day long. What would be a meal that’s nutritionally balanced and gives strength that doesn’t have any meat in it?’”

“Obviously I’m no expert in this, but I do consider the weather. So, you know, I think the last meal that I brought was a cold salad and it was a cold and rainy day and I thought, oh, dang, this wasn’t a good choice. It should have been a soup or something hot. So I do like to look at the weather,” Von adds.

On top of all of the above reasons that keep Inka coming back every week, she also experiences personal benefits in the same way that many of our volunteers do. The most important of these for her are the mental health benefits. She says, “Well, I do wanna add that I think volunteering is, like I said, it’s good for my mental health. It connects me to other people. I think that’s a good thing, you know, and on a bad day, if I feel depressed or down and it’s that day where I’m supposed to bring food over to habitat–to me, that’s also a lifesaver. Then I’m like, ok, I better get going and get some food and start cooking and it’s like it moves me forward.”

“You know, it’s like, the people that work on the houses, you can’t just not show up, because the nail has to be put in,” Von continued. “There is sort of this collective goal of getting it done. It’s very motivating for my own personal life also. It gives me some kind of a purpose.”

There are many ways to bring affordable housing to our community and every hand makes a difference!

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