Global Village 2015: Holly Woolard

March 24, 2015  |  Leave a Comment

Holly Woolard, a volunteer with Habitat Greater SF’s 2015 Global Village trip, blogs from Vietnam.

Habitat volunteer with Vietnamese family

Our Habitat team with our new family.

March 22 – Feeling Connected in Vietnam
March 23 – Once is Never Enough
March 26 – A Global Village Family Has Room for All
March 27 – A Flood of Emotions: Our Final Build Day in Vietnam


March 27, 2015 – A Flood of Emotions: Our Final Build Day in Vietnam

Torrential rains prevented us from building on our final day of our Global Village trip in the Tien Phuoc district of Vietnam. Instead, we said our goodbyes in multicolored ponchos under tarps that attempted to protect the handiwork we are so proud of.

Vietnam Goodbye

Group goodbye on the final build day

One by one, our 24 volunteers stepped forward to tell our two families how this opportunity has enriched our lives. Standing before us holding their children, these families found it difficult to put into words the impact we made on their lives. And even though we had interpreters, words could never fully convey their thankfulness just like we could not articulate exactly what we had all gained from this unique opportunity to make a difference.

It wasn’t until the government leader of Tien Phuoc joined us for lunch and thanked us profusely that I began to fathom the impact we made here. He didn’t just stop by a small family-owned restaurant, which also serves as a home, for a ceremonial toast. The district leader sat down with us and ate; he talked about the rice we consumed throughout the trip and the unusual amount of rain for this time of year and the poverty of the farmers he ably represents.

Vietnam handshake

Volunteer John with a leader of the Tien Phuoc district.

We provided a hand up to the families who will get new homes. We inspired two towns to realize there are people in this world who care. We showed them we are some of those people.

Our Habitat volunteers have been posting photos on Facebook all week long, sharing our experiences with our friends and family at home. I’ve been told I’m awesome, that my friends are proud of me, and I admit that I shrugged it off without a second thought.

But today, as we walked through the pouring rain in those ponchos, with the town folks waving one last time at that group of Americans parading down their roads, I began to feel a small measure of pride. It didn’t matter that I used all my vacation to come on this trip to help haul 14,000 bricks to the house we were building. I really made a difference. Our group really made a difference.

As I type my last blog on this Habitat for Humanity journey, I have tears rolling down my cheeks. The day started with torrential rain and is ending with a flood of emotions.

vietnam gina 2015

Group leader Gina Brown presents local family with a photo keepsake

That’s what giving back does to a person. Thanks so much to Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco for allowing me to make difference. It has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I never would have traveled these roads without you.


March 26, 2015 – A Global Village Family Has Room for All

One of the cool things about our Global Village build in Vietnam this week is the role that the families are playing in the actual work.

At one of our two housing sites, the fathers of the husband and wife who are getting a new home have been helping daily with the construction. The two vivacious children provide entertainment for our volunteers, giving a few of our workers a built-in excuse to stop for a play break. The mom is so appreciative of our efforts that she walked one of our volunteers to the bus while sharing an umbrella during a downpour.

Gina at food table

Group Leader, Gina, with a local resident

At our site, the young mother finds time to make morning and afternoon snacks in between caring for her two darling daughters, who are too young to really know what’s going on. The mom is very strong, so strong that she tells me to pile the red bricks higher before hauling her loads to where her new home is going up.

Meanwhile, Daddy is one of the key builders, sifting sand, mixing mortar and doing anything the skilled, hired laborers ask of him. Grandma can often be seen supervising in her own way, a reminder that elders are respected here.

People from throughout these two tiny, remote towns stop by to pitch in out of respect…and curiosity. A teenage boy shows up seemingly out of nowhere on two afternoons after school to shovel sand into our wheelbarrows, just because he wants to help.

The volunteers in our group have quickly become family as well, working in synch, from laying bricks, to fetching and mixing mortar to hauling bricks and sand. We are working very hard here and it’s pretty incredible how quickly we all found our niches and comfort zones.

Just as it’s been awesome to see and experience the Vietnam families and their communities, which are extended families unto themselves, it’s been interesting to witness how the family members on our trip have interacted with each other and with the group. Among our 24 volunteers, there are three married couples and two sets of brothers and sisters.

Nikki and Sophie laying bricks

Habitat Greater SF staff Nikki, and her wife Sophia

Nikki Black, events manager for Habitat Humanity Greater San Francisco, is in Vietnam volunteering with her wife, Sophia Martineau. While Nikki is fully engaged in volunteerism as part of her job, Sophia has been busy doing her own thing during the year that her wife has been working for Habitat. The Vietnam trip will likely change that.

“Nikki has tried to get me to volunteer,” Sophia says. “It’s so neat to watch Nikki with the brick laying. She’s very talented. I feel really proud of her just getting to watch her in a leadership role. Whatever she does, she does it very well and that’s been reinforced on this trip.”

Cathy Baird, a regular Habitat volunteer in the San Francisco Bay Area, attended last year’s Habitat trip to Vietnam solo, but came back this year with her husband, Stan. “Part of my motivation was to experience Vietnam with her,” Stan said.

Volunteers Cathy and Stan with Vietnamese children

Volunteers Cathy and Stan with the two young children whose house they are building

Bryn Smith, who also volunteers at home in San Francisco, is here with his sister Gigi. They are definitely the epitome of a sibling tandem, rooming together yet getting on each other’s nerves just enough that they rarely eat our meals together.

“It’s really great to experience this together,” Bryn says. “It’s pretty amazing. We’ll need a few weeks of not seeing each other after we get back. Gigi will need a Bryn break.”

Si Diep, who was born in Vietnam, returned to his native country for the first time with the Habitat group last year. He’s back this year and brought along his sister, Hong.

First-timers Jeff Kilbreth and Gail Eierweiss, husband and wife, are here on a recognizant mission of sorts. Recently retired, Jeff and Gail came to Vietnam for the experience and to learn more about providing homes for the needy. They now live in Richmond, California, and hope to make an impact on that community just like we’re building homes and hope here in Vietnam.

It’s a bigger thrill than I could have ever imagined to be a part of the Habitat family!


March 23, 2015 – Once is Never Enough

Once just doesn’t seem to be enough. Nearly half of the 24 volunteers on our Habitat for Humanity build this week in the Tien Phuoc district of Vietnam have participated in projects before.

Gretchen Heckman, a member of the Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco Young Leaders Circle, succinctly sums up the reason she’s in Vietnam, where we are building houses for two families. “What a great way to travel and give back,” she says.

Let’s face it. How many people get the chance to become fully immersed in a culture in a week’s time and actually help someone? Trust me. You would not find the rural villages where we are building on your own. You probably wouldn’t get to taste freshly cut coconut prepared and graciously served by a local family at the end of a dirt road. It’s highly unlikely that you’d get to take photos with school children decked out in their uniforms or work side by side with skilled laborers who don’t speak English.

“There’s still a great deal of need in the rural environment,” says Kelly Koch, the Vietnam director for Habitat for Humanity. “It’s important for people to see how much need there is. Tourists only see the development in the big cities. People who only visit Ho Chi Minh City think it’s all rooftop bars.”

Vietnam group moves buckets

Volunteers Sophia, Nikki, Si Diep, Chris Yeon, Richard Adamczyk, and Maryjane White

Nothing could be further from the truth in Tien Phuoc. One new home we’re building is quarter of a mile beyond the vehicle access point. Trucks have dropped off bricks and sand at the end of the road and it’s up to us to use wheel barrels to move the building supplies to the site. Now that’s cultural immersion considering that we are walking between rice fields, passing water buffalo and hearing the sounds of birds that are certainly not perched around North America.

Devon Reed has participated in at least 30 days of building in the Bay Area and loves it. So when he heard about the Vietnam trip he knew he had to volunteer for his first international build.

“Americans get such a bad rap,” Devon says. “I like Habitat so much. I just like doing volunteer work. When I told my family and friends about the trip to Vietnam they said it was a no-brainer.”

Unlike builds in the Bay Area, Devon says that working directly with the families for whom the houses are being built is an extra bonus of the Vietnam trip.

“The secret behind it is you actually get way more out of it than you put into it,” Devon says.

No wonder Habitat volunteers keep coming back, especially considering the unique international travel experiences our Vietnam trip is delivering.


March 22, 2015 – Feeling Connected in Vietnam

My Son Sanctuary

Habitat Group at the My Son Sanctuary

If there is one word to describe what our group of 24 volunteers is seeking during our Habitat for Humanity Global Village build this week in the Tien Phuoc district of Vietnam, it’s “connection.”

We’re here to connect with a culture many of us know very little about. We’ve flown 16 hours and taken a three-hour bus ride into the remote countryside to experience a connection with the other volunteers with whom we’re sharing this trip of a lifetime. And many of us are here to reconnect with ourselves. We grew up wanting to make a difference and are now afforded a chance to actually fulfill that inner purpose.

Our stories and motivations are varied, but we all seem to be driven to connect. That point became vividly clear during our opening meeting when our veteran group leader, Gina Brown, asked us to describe exactly what we hoped to gain from our journey.

John Tastor is here for the first time since 1971, when he served in the Army during the Vietnam War. He’s here to connect with a nation that was in turmoil more than four decades ago during his last visit. Part of his memories are captured in the photos he brought with him to our Habitat build–a striking young man in his 20s in his Army greens. Now gray-haired and full of travel experiences from around the world, John is here to build new peace-filled memories of Vietnam by giving back as a Habitat for Humanity volunteer.

Vietnam bricklayers

Volunteers Chris and Sophia lay bricks on a wall

Hong Diep, another volunteer in our group, left Vietnam more than 20 years ago as a 9-year-old and is returning for the first time this week. She is joined in Vietnam by her boyfriend, Norman Ng, who said he volunteered for the build to support Hong’s return to her country of birth. Even though Hong grew up about four hours from the My Son Sanctuary UNESCO World Heritage Site, which we visited on Sunday, she had never seen the temples, some of which date to the 4th century.

Virginia Terra Hodge is volunteering in Vietnam for the second straight year. During last year’s build, she felt she didn’t open herself up to the Vietnam culture and people as much as she could have and has returned as sort of a do-over. Virginia didn’t waste any time, immersing herself in dance with Vietnamese women on the waterfront promenade during the first night of our trip in Da Nang.

For me, this trip takes me back to my days growing up in the Baptist church when I thought I just might be called to be a missionary. Truth be told, I am really not missionary material, but here I am with chance to make a difference, a chance to connect with the heartfelt convictions of my former self and thus be enriched by a week of selflessness.

Now, those are some pretty powerful connections and we’re just getting started!

Habitat Volunteers Are 1 in a Million. Literally.

March 19, 2015  |  Leave a Comment

1M Launch Blog Header

One hundred fourteen years.

Five thousand nine hundred fifty-two weeks.

Forty-one thousand six hundred sixty-seven days.

Three billion one hundred…okay, okay, you get it. It’s a lot. But a lot of what?

Well, April is National Volunteer Month 2015…which coincides with a very exciting volunteer milestone for us: 1,000,000 volunteer hours logged!

What does that mean?

For starters: it means you are 1 in 1 million! Get it? If you have volunteered with Habitat Greater SF at all over the last 25 years, even one hour, then you’ve contributed to the million!

Here’s what all our 1-in-a-million volunteers have accomplished: with the help of over 66,200 individual volunteers from 2939 cities, representing all 50 states (and D.C.!), we’ve been able to build and rehabilitate 208 homes and repair 16 more, AND revitalize 12 community facilities and 10 public parks through 41 park beautifications.

Guys. That. Is. Awesome. You are awesome.

And to thank you all for being so unutterably awesome, we are thrilled to announce our roster of National Volunteer Month activities and giveaways to thank you all for the wonderful work you’ve put in. We’ll be celebrating our volunteers all month:

  • breakfast and/or lunch for our regulars
  • new blog posts and emails featuring some of you!
  • stickers and volunteer badges to let everyone know you are 1 in 1 million!
  • tweets, Facebook posts, and Instagram shots of you wonderful people
  • coupons from Smitten Ice Cream to feed a post-build day appetite
  • our first ever Brown Bag Build with 10-year partner, PG&E – more details to come. You won’t want to miss it!
  • and more!

We can’t wait for you to see what we’ve got set up! We are so excited and grateful that we couldn’t quite wait – to hold you over until next week, we’ve got this snazzy little slideshow, featuring even more of our amazing volunteers over the last 25 years. Watch it. Love it. Feel inspired. Then join the party: sign up to volunteer and don’t forget to tweet and Instagram with #1MillionStrong and #1MillionMore. See you at 2 million!

25 Years of Crazy Hats, Weird Pants and Building Forward – A Video Love Letter

February 18, 2015  |  Leave a Comment

It’s been an amazing year celebrating our 25th anniversary here at Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco. And we used this milestone year to reflect on what we’ve accomplished and reconnect with the folks who have made our work possible. We’ve been inspired by our families who shared what their home has meant to them, by our volunteers who have dedicated more than 140,000 volunteer days to helping us build homes and strengthen communities and by our donors who continue to fund all of this important work.

In finding the stories to celebrate our 25th anniversary, we also were inspired by other things: the bizarre construction site dress code of the 1990s – we call it retro construction chic; the hilarious ways people use wheelbarrows and the way people always seem to have fun at Habitat even while they’re working so hard. We thought you might want to see that, too:

Thank you all for being part of our 25-year history and thank you in advance for being part of our next 25 years. We are going to do amazing things with your help.

To follow our progress, sign up for our monthly eNews.

To make a sustainable impact that can truly mean the difference to local families, join our Nuts & Bolts club as a monthly donor.

Will You Be Our Valentine?

February 12, 2015  |  Leave a Comment

Valentine’s Day comes early at Habitat! While we can’t send each and every one of you chocolates, flowers and stuffed bears galore (we want to save to #BuildForward!), we’d love to share with you some sweet Valentines. Check out some of last year’s cards or print off some of your own for the kids (and kids at heart)!

Click here to get a downloadable PDF* of our tear-able, share-able Valentines!

Click here to share the images on Facebook!

Happy Valentine’s Day!



*Don’t forget to print your Valentines PDF double-sided!

Habi Holidays!

December 18, 2014  |  Leave a Comment

This year, you guys have helped us introduce new families (and reconnect with homeowners from years past!), celebrate 25 years, build with PRIDE, frame the future, win #GivingTuesday and so much more! So, as 2014 winds down, we just wanted to wish you all Habi happy holidays…with a little help from our families and volunteers. Help make more holiday memories for local families by donating now!

Shirley and Federico, 1st Christmas in their home

Amanda, 1st Christmas in her home

Matt and Shannon, 2nd Christmas in their home

Schueller Family Christmas Card

Dina, 4th Christmas in her home

Dina Christmas Card

Kalimah, 10-year Habitat volunteer

Happy holidays to you and yours!

Christmas Card w ornaments and families


Remember that time you all rocked #GivingTuesday 2014? So do we.

December 4, 2014  |  Leave a Comment

Last year, we asked you all to spread the word about #GivingTuesday, the annual day of giving following Black Friday and Cyber Monday, now in it’s third year. On December 3, 2013, you helped us raise 120% of our $5,000 goal in just 24 hours. This year, we decided to go even bigger — $10,000 in 24 hours.

Well. You guys made it happen, and we are THRILLED, INSPIRED AND BRIMMING WITH THANKFULNESS!

Here are just a few highlights from the day — try not to get too overwhelmed by how amazing you all are:

We joined with more than 18,000 organizations worldwide to celebrate #GivingTuesday

The Prep

We spent one month planting seeds with our digital community about #GivingTuesday via Facebook, Twitter, and our monthly e-news. On December 2, we asked you not only to donate what you could, but to spread the word on social media, in person, and via email — and you came through! This Facebook post featuring one of our homeowners was seen more than 3,000 times!


The Countdown

Razoo, an online giving platform, featured us in their pre-#GivingTuesday news line-up as one of 10 organizations spotlighted for the national giving day. Nice!

The Social Media

#GivingTuesday was conceived as a ‘digital’ giving day and marketed as a hashtag, so this year, we stretched our social legs, posting nine times on Facebook between 7 AM and midnight; 20 times on Twitter (where we received 47 mentions, retweets, and clicks, and earned a combined reach of over 150,000 views!); and six times on Instagram.

The Golden Ticket

Just after 10PM (two hours after reaching $10K in donations), Razoo announced Habitat won a $1000 Golden Ticket for the most donors between 9 and 10 PM. Can I get a shoutout for people who stay up late?

We also placed 16th (out of more than 24,000 fundraisers and organizations) on Razoo’s #GivingTuesday page for funds raised, and 24th for number of individual donors.

The Donations

The best part? The donations ranged from big to small. Our 125 donors gave gifts ranging from $10 to $1,000! And some lucky ReStore shoppers (and staff!) even got this limited edition stickers. Here’s Jessica, one of our AmeriCorps, modeling hers.

The Fun Part

Our staff came through in a big way this year, doubling from 30% giving to 60% (28 staff, both office and construction). And five (that’s 30 percent!) of our AmeriCorps gave, averaging over $20 each!

The Wrap Up

All in all – we raised $15,157 and with the match from Tamalpais Pacific, we have $25,157 to mobilize our neighbors to build homes, revitalize neighborboods and get people homebuyer ready. You made a difference for families on #GivingTuesday, proving to us that you harness the Holiday Spirit for good. Thank you!

7 Ways to Give this Holiday Season

December 1, 2014  |  Leave a Comment

With Thanksgiving just behind us and New Year’s Eve less than a month away, it’s safe to say the holiday season is once again in full swing. Between family dinners, office parties, traveling and manic shopping deal days, we know things can get pretty busy. That’s why we whipped up this quick and easy guide for holiday giving. Here are 7 easy ways, in just seven days, to help Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco give the gift of home this holiday season.

Monday: Plan a pizza party!

Still hungry after a Thanksgiving feast? If you’re in San Francisco, you can plan an office pizza party or just pick up a few pies before you head home. On Tuesday, December 2nd, Patxi’s Pizza in Hayes Valley will be donating 10% of the day’s proceeds to Habitat Greater San Francisco! Your money will go toward great pizza and a great cause — what better way to start off the week?

Pizza from Patxi's

*Image courtesy Patxi’s Pizza 

Tuesday: Join our #GivingTuesday campaign!

It’s #GivingTuesday again! Celebrate the third annual national giving day by joining our campaign. Schedule a donation, share a Facebook post, and retweet! If @HabitatGSF gets the most retweets on a single tweet that includes the hashtag #RazooGT14, we could win a Twitter Trophy worth up to $600!

Wednesday: Volunteer!

Beat back the hump day slump with a hammer and a handful of nails. We’re still looking for volunteers in the new year, so grab a few friends and sign up now!

Thursday: Vote!

If the long week has tired you out, don’t worry — this one is easy. Vote up Habitat for Humanity Greater SF in the Sungevity Gives Backs contest and help us win $20,000 toward building homes and hope in San Francisco, Marin and the Peninsula.

Friday: Donate!

Remember all those great deals you scored last Friday? Pay it forward — your happy hour could be the doorknob on a happy home.

Parker Family One Year Sign

And remember, Habitat can use more than cash. If you’re decluttering before the holidays, remember to donate old appliances and furniture to the ReStore. Speaking of the ReStore…

Saturday: Go shopping!

You’ve had a week to recover from Black Friday madness. Resurface (safely!) at our ReStore in San Carlos and check off your holiday shopping list early.

Sunday: Relax and donate your car with a few clicks.

Phew! What a week. You deserve a day off. Fortunately, donating your car is as easy as checking your Facebook feed while binge watching Netflix. Enjoy!