Mike Ballard may be in charge of constructing Habitat of Owensboro/Daviess County’s 125th house, but if you ask him, he’s more concerned about building a shack. To understand that statement, I’ll let him explain it to you exactly the way he explained it to me on an April morning, standing next to studded walls in what was shaping up to be the living room.
“Joe dies and gets up to the pearly gates and meets Saint Peter. Saint Peter lets him in and takes him down the streets of gold past all these big mansions. Joe starts thinking ‘Hey, this is gonna be alright.’ But Peter takes him right past the million dollar homes, past the half a million dollar homes, the hundred thousand dollar homes, all the way down to the end of the street, where he finally stops at a tar paper shack and says, ‘Well, this is where you’re gonna live.’ Joe is dumbfounded and says, ‘How come?’ So Saint Peter tells him matter-of-factly, ‘Because you didn’t send me anything to build with.’”
That story explains what guys like Mike Ballard are all about.
He put it very plainly, “At the end of the day, I think I’ve been given a talent that I’m good at, and I share it with a lot of people, including Habitat.”
Not because the homeowner is deserving. Although she is (Mike didn’t know who the homeowner would be when he agreed to the project).
Not because there’s going to be any kind of public recognition (other than this article).
Obviously, he’s not going to make any money on this project, and he’s not likely to get any future referrals from this job either.
It’s simply because he wants to give back a little – send some wood up for his shack, as the story goes. “I’ve worked hard, but I’ve been blessed tremendously, so I just thought it was time for me to give back.”
And because he can.
“I feel like it’s my duty. It’s something I think I need to do. I’m honored to have the ability to do what I do, and be able to organize this project, but my biggest pleasure in doing this is that all these people who have helped on this project are my friends and Home Builders Association members. When I call, they always show up. We’re doing this together.”
Apparently all those friends like giving back, too.
Then again, Habitat is a pretty easy sell. Since its founding 40 years ago, Habitat’s reach now extends to all 50 states, and more than 70 countries around the world, helping 5 million people improve their housing situations.
Habitat of Owensboro/Daviess County began in 1988, and now regularly builds 7-8 houses a year. The 125th house is set to close in June. First Presbyterian Church has already started on house #126. Owensboro Health is sponsoring houses #127 and #128.
Habitat boils down to bringing the community together to give shelter, self-respect, and the hope of a better life. But make no mistake; they do not give houses to low-income families. After the application process, homeowners are expected to contribute 350 hours of “sweat equity” to be eligible for the program.
Ballard’s goal was to finish the 125th house in 40 days. To keep it all on schedule, Mike hand-drew his own schedule with a ruler and a marker on a whiteboard. Then he started making phone calls to his Home Builders Association friends.
It helps that he’s coordinated Habitat houses before. In 2007, while Ballard was president of the Home Builders Association, he coordinated Habitat’s 75th house. “I had heard about Habitat for years, and always knew what they did, but never had an opportunity to be involved. So I decided to do it since it just fell in my lap.” He also coordinated the100th Habitat house.
“It’s been a pleasure doing it. Virginia (Braswell, Director) and her team are fun to be around.”
On a sunny day in the first week of May, the future homeowner, named Casey, took a break from mowing to walk me through her home-in-progress. By then, the drywall had been hung, taped, finished, and painted. The floor was scheduled to be laid an hour after our interview. According to Mike’s white board, they were two days ahead of schedule.
It’s an open floor plan, where the kitchen transitions right into the dining room and living area. “I want to put a small island and some stools right here,” she said, just beneath a pretty chandelier, unable to hide her excitement.
Casey’s three-year-old son, Champion, is mostly excited about seeing the work trucks at the construction site. But he knows which room is his.
“It’s a lot more space than the house we’re renting now. I know his bed is going in that corner, the dresser will go along this wall, and his toy box will go under this window,” she pointed.
Casey obviously sees the finished product in her mind as she walks room to room. As the finish date nears, she can hardly imagine driving into the driveway for the first time after work, unloading groceries, fixing supper, and spending time with Champ in his brand new bedroom.
She’s been dreaming of and waiting for that day for a long time. It’s been three years since Casey filled out her application to get on the list for a Habitat home. In that time, she has logged far beyond the required 350 hours, and is still volunteering time to Habitat.
“I’ve learned so much doing this. I’ve painted, hung siding and drywall, helped with landscaping,” Casey recalled, pausing to think. “I think I’ll always be involved. I want to help on the ‘Women’s Build’ next year.”
Growing up in low-income housing – her mother never was able to own – this is a life-changing opportunity for Casey. “Instead of paying rent to someone else, I’ll be paying on this house instead. Through Habitat, my payment will be $350-$400. It’s amazing.” Casey estimates she’s spent a little less than $20,000 in rent the past 3 ½ years. “Can you imagine what I would have paid if I stayed there and rented another ten years?”
As for future plans, Casey plans to go back and finish her college degree, then get a full-time job.
And you can guarantee that Mike’s future will include building more houses. He may be going on 73, but he has no plans of quitting. “I’ll never stop building, because I love what I do.”
Beyond #125, Habitat is looking forward to the “Help Builds Hope” event, which is sponsored by Owensboro Family YMCA, on Saturday, July 30 at the Owensboro Convention Center. Starting at 8 a.m., volunteers will spend the morning framing up walls for a pre-build. Don’t be surprised if you find Casey out there swinging a hammer too. Habitat’s annual “Banjos and Brunch” fundraiser will be held August 20 from 9:30-11:30 a.m. at Southern Star. For more information, call 270-926-6110.
As we finished our interview, Casey went back to mowing the grass – scratch that – her grass, in the first yard she’ll ever own.
You don’t have to be on site to help Habitat!
- A $10 donation = box of nails
- $35 = shingles
- $50 = low flow toilet
- $75 = window
- $100 = kitchen sink
- $150 = front door
- $500 = siding
- $1,000 = wallboard/drywall
- $2,000 = flooring