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Former Habitat for Humanity supervisor continues to help novice volunteers

Thursday, November 27, 2008 | 4:00 p.m. CST; updated 1:05 p.m. CST, Friday, November 28, 2008
Bob Shannon, shown inspecting a home on Saturday, is a building supervisor for Habitat for Humanity. He takes groups of novice builders and teaches them construction skills.

COLUMBIA — Every Friday and Saturday, Bob Shannon holds the modern equivalent of an old-fashioned barn-raising.

Shannon, a part-time building supervisor for Habitat for Humanity, takes a new group of volunteers and teaches them construction skills, even though many volunteers have never held a hammer. With his guidance, they help build a house.

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“I spend two days a week hosting a party,” he said. “It’s extremely rewarding. I get to work with a highly motivated crew ... and put people in homes with a deal they can get nowhere else in the world."

A former private builder, Shannon shifted to work for the nonprofit in 2000 after he moved to Columbia and needed more reliable employment. One of two Habitat building supervisors, he is the only one who works with volunteers.

In September, the City Council included $101,000 in Community Development Block Grants in the 2009 budget for Habitat's building projects in the Creasy Springs Ridge subdivision, said Tom Lata, Columbia's Community Development Coordinator. Community Development Block Grants come from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to fund projects benefiting low and moderate income neighborhoods.

Shannon, 69, said he loves the teaching aspect of his job.  “I get to teach volunteers how to nail a nail, how to get on the roof of a house. "

"They had a hard time finding someone to do my job", he said. " You know, part of me is competitive. I like to do things people say you can't do.

For six years, Shannon was in charge of Habitat for Humanity’s construction projects in Columbia. Since retiring two and a half years ago, he has been supervising the volunteer construction crew two days a week.

Since he joined the organization, he has helped build 40 to 50 houses at various locations around town.  This fall, his work has been directed to the last few houses at Norbury Hills, a Habitat subdivision off Oakland Gravel Road in northeast Columbia.

Habitat For Humanity is a Christian housing ministry that provides affordable homes to needy families who qualify. On average, Habitat houses range from about 900 square feet to 1,500 square feet and cost an average of $60,000, according to the organization's Web site, habitat.org.

Habitat projects keep prices low because volunteers and future homeowners supply most of the labor, materials are donated or discounted, and the organization isn’t looking for a profit, Shannon said.

Habitat began in the 1970s and Columbia founded a chapter about 10 years later.  The local organization has constructed about 100 houses in town. Once Norbury Hills homes are complete next year, Habitat will begin construction in the Creasy Springs Ridge subdivision, Shannon said.

Shannon has brought his considerable building experiences to the job, making sure people are safe and the houses are well-built. 

For most of his life, Shannon said he has been either building or fixing something. He was raised in the building trades.

"If your father is a small builder, the kids are going to be involved in building somehow," he said.

"It served me well; I put myself through college as a carpenter." 

He went to MU and graduated in 1965 with a finance degree. For 30 years, he worked as a finance controller for manufacturers, moving around the country to fix or create their financial systems. 

He said the two jobs are similar:  “Accounting isn’t much different than building  … once you understand the little-bitty elements, then it becomes a creative and innovative task to get the job done.”

Habitat is not a “giveaway program,” Shannon said. Homeowners must purchase the houses with a down payment and mortgage loan. The loans, however, have a zero-percent interest rate and the down payment is 300 hours of work by the homeowner.

Working on the house or helping in the local Habitat office meets the requirements, Shannon said, and friends and family members can also help out.

Jose Rodriguez, a landscaper at a local country club who came to Columbia from Mexico nine years ago, is one of Habitat’s newest homeowners. Shannon is supervising construction of his house in Norbury Hills.

For the down payment, Rodriguez and his friend Celso Baldovinos have been painting, hanging drywall and framing. Rodriguez' wife works in the Habitat office.  

“We are very happy and excited,” Rodriguez said. “It is good for everybody.” 

Baldovinos, a homeowner for six years, said that without Habitat help, neither he nor Rodriguez could own a house.

Dave and Carolyn Denton, both Habitat volunteers for the last 25 years,  are sponsoring the Rodriguez family. Since Jose’s English is limited and his wife cannot speak the language at all, the Dentons translate for them and help the family when they need it.

“The best part is getting people in houses,” Dave Denton said. Very few have moved out, and those who do either move away or outgrow the house.

Jane McElroy and Dave Whitaker, also Habitat volunteers, know the skills they’re learning will help them in the long run. 

Whitaker said he plans to build his own home. He worked for a roofer and knew a bit about construction, but said his Habitat volunteering fills the gaps.

“I have bits and pieces but not the knowledge, and working with people that have it, like Bob, gives you that knowledge," Whitaker said.

McElroy agreed, although she has no intention of building a home. “Bob’s just amazing," she said. "I didn't know anything about building a house, and with Bob, if you do the wrong thing or break something, you don't feel stupid.” 

The sense of accomplishment keeps her coming back each week to volunteer.

“You have this feeling of contributing. Bob lets people who are complete novices do real work. He walks you through it, and on the third time through, he lets you start," she said.

Shannon said he gets a lot out of working with volunteers.  “I enjoy working with the younger people. It helps keep me young," he said. 

"You know a rocking chair will kill you," he added. "I guess that’s part of the pay.”


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