Why I Build – Kalimah, Volunteer

August 25, 2014  |  Leave a Comment

Why I Build is a blog series from Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco community members–volunteers, donors, staff, homeowners and more–about what we do, why we’re here, and why we build. Kalimah, a long time volunteer, shares the personal experiences that inspired her to dedicate a week each year of her life to Habitat for Humanity. 

Some years ago, I suddenly found myself a single mother of a two-year-old son, and pregnant with twins. As I prepared for maternity leave, I had to train my replacement at work, a man named Sam. I was not a happy person at the time. I was huge and hot and I really did not want to talk to people. But Sam wouldn’t leave me alone. Repeatedly, I was like, “can you please shut up!” I was horrible to him!

I gave birth to the twins early, and later there was a knock on my hospital door…there was Sam, who had only known me a week. And it was the beginning of a beautiful relationship, because he never left. To him, it was simple: “you’re alone and you need help, so I’m going to help you.”

Kalimah, left, with one of her twin daughters, Ananda, on Ananda's first volunteer day at Habitat Terrace

Sam helped enthusiastically, and it completely changed both my daily life and my self-worth. It changed the way I felt about myself and how I was going to live my life from that moment forward. We became best friends…he is still my best friend.

Ten years ago, Sam was struck while riding his motorbike and killed instantly. I was devastated. We were both 26 at the time, and in your 20s you don’t think people your age can die. His mother held a very small funeral service for Sam. She was on the Habitat for Humanity board of Albuquerque, and decided that in his memory, she would hold a week-long blitz build of two houses. It was incredible. She had just lost her son and she was pounding nails to honor him.

That was my first experience with Habitat for Humanity. We built a house for a single mother with three kids; she and I made an immediate connection. All of Sam’s friends were there together. We got to connect with the families who would live in the homes we built. When I came home, I made a promise to myself that I would give a week of my life to Habitat for Humanity every year in Sam’s memory. I’ve been building ever since.

Every time I step onto a Habitat for Humanity site, I am reminded of Sam’s spirit. When I build, it’s as though he’s with me again.

Learn more about Kalimah and her inspiring dedication to giving back at this year’s Framing the Future breakfast.

Why I Build – Meredyth, Project Manager

July 31, 2014  |  Leave a Comment

Why I Build is a blog series from Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco community members–volunteers, donors, staff, homeowners and more–about what we do, why we’re here, and why we build. Meredyth, a project manager on our real estate development team, recalls her a-ha moment that brought her to affordable housing, and eventually to Habitat. 

Meredyth volunteering at Habitat Terrace, December 2013. "I was 7+ months pregnant and lasted the whole day!"

I remember when I decided to pursue a career in affordable housing: as an undergraduate architecture student at the University of Minnesota, I was studying Pruitt-Igoe in an architectural theory class. It was learning about this failed 1950’s public housing development in St. Louis that spurred my decision to minor in Urban Studies, and that prompted my interest in housing.

In the years that have passed since receiving my college diploma, I have had the opportunity to see firsthand how development impacts a neighborhood, how cities make policy decisions about those impacts, how non-profits respond to availability of land and resources, and how low income residents navigate the process to rent or buy an affordable home.

As project manager at Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco, I am responsible for overseeing all aspects of the development process, including finding and purchasing the land to build on, getting the permits to build, designing the building, securing funding, and making sure it gets built on time and on budget. In this role, I lead teams to move projects from inception to completion.

My involvement with Habitat for Humanity began in college, with a summer internship in the volunteer department of the Twin Cities affiliate. I was drawn to the unique model that Habitat utilizes to deliver affordable homeownership opportunities to low income families. In the years that have passed since this formative experience, I have experienced the complicated political, financial and managerial tasks that make these inspiring and heartwarming stories possible.

Here at Habitat, and earlier in my career with another non-profit developer and an advocacy organization, I have seen the challenges that exist for organizations addressing this problem in a field that is wrought with arcane regulatory barriers and dwindling resources. Safe, affordable housing is a universal need, and   these obstacles can only be tackled with innovation and creativity, with new ways of looking at the problem and out-of-the-box thinking and solutions.

At Habitat Greater San Francisco, we pride ourselves on being an innovator in our field. From constructing complicated, multi-unit buildings with 85% volunteer labor (like at 7555 Mission) to responding to the area’s foreclosure crisis with our Neighborhood Revitalization Program, we strive to find new solutions to the persistent challenge of providing affordable homeownership opportunities in the Bay Area.

This is why I come to work every day. Habitat Greater San Francisco values innovation, and recognizes that only through new ways of doing things will we solve this region’s housing crisis.

Building Forward: Neighborhood Revitalization Program

July 28, 2014  |  1 Comment

To celebration our 25th anniversary, we are sharing the stories of how we’ve been building forward in Marin, San Francisco and the Peninsula for 25 years. Learn more about our anniversary here

A few years ago, Miguel and Alejandra were renting a small townhome in Marin County for their growing family with no yard for the children to play. Miguel, a Marin County social worker and Alejandra, a stay-at-home mom, thought homeownership was out of reach and they worried that having another child might get them kicked out of their rental, which capped the number of residents allowed per unit. Then they heard about Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco.

During the height of the recession in 2009, we figured out a way to continue to provide affordable homeownership opportunities to working families, while also addressing neighborhood blight. We launched our Neighborhood Revitalization Program to purchase and renovate foreclosed homes and sell them to hard-working families at affordable rates.

While this differed from Habitat’s traditional model of building homes from the ground up, the opportunity to secure and renovate homes affordably using volunteer labor was certainly in line with our mission to provide a springboard to financial security for working families. Restoring neglected and vacant properties for neighborhoods was icing on the cake.

“The housing downturn left a devastating impact to families and communities – but through the Neighborhood Revitalization Program we were able to turn lemons into lemonade by acquiring vacant, blighted foreclosed properties and rehabilitating them by and with families and the community,” said Deven Richardson, director of real estate development at Habitat Greater San Francisco.

Buoyed by a $500,000 matching grant from the City of Menlo Park to acquire and rehabilitate 5 bank-owned homes, we kicked off this program, which ultimately bought and renovated 19 homes for 19 new Habitat families in Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, San Rafael and Novato, where Alejandra and Miguel would buy their family’s first home.

Miguel, Alejandra and their children in front of their home in Novato

Menlo Park’s initial commitment triggered a wave of support from other municipalities, banks, community and religious organizations. The cities of East Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Novato and San Rafael approved more than $1.5 million in funding for the Neighborhood Revitalization Program, while the county of San Mateo kicked in $120,000. Local banks put in more than $250,000 and Menlo Park Presbyterian Church contributed $150,000.

Thomas Peters, president and CEO of the Marin Community Foundation was quoted in an October 2011 article in the Marin Independent Journal about why the foundation chose to support the program with an additional $200,000 on top of the $250,000 they’d already committed to Habitat Greater San Francisco.

“This is … not just providing housing for people working and contributing here in Marin, but it’s also affordable housing as a revitalization force within our cities and towns,” he said.

Before the Neighborhood Revitalization program, Habitat had never built or renovated a home in Marin County. While many families lost their homes during the recession, through the Neighborhood Revitalization program, Habitat was able to provide new homeownership for Alejandra and Miguel, plus 18 other families.

“Not many Marin County employees have the opportunity to live and work in the same county,” said Miguel. “Many have to travel more than an hour each way. I on the other hand have a short commute which allows me to spend time with my family and also volunteer with different organizations in Novato. Owning a home has made a difference in our lives in knowing our children can safely play in our yard.”

Pssst… wanna get a deal at the ReStore?

July 16, 2014  |  Leave a Comment

What do customers say about the ReStore? “I love this store, it’s like heaven!” When you shop at the ReStore, you help us raise funds for homes—which is why we have a strict no-haggling policy. That doesn’t mean there aren’t tricks to scoring an extra deal, though! Shopping at the ReStore is a treasure hunt – and a bit of a competition – to find the perfect piece at a best price. Sometimes, it can feel overwhelming. To give you an insider’s perspective on how to win at the ReStore, our staff and volunteers put our heads together and came up with these tips just for you:


Shop the first day that we’re open on a new month.

We do our monthly markdowns at the beginning of the month, so full-price products become 25% off, 50% off becomes 75% off…and more and more. The color of the item’s price tag indicates its discount. Be sure to ask the cashier for a “cheat sheet” when you come in. We think of it as a treasure map to savings.


Join our Frequent Buyer Program.

Make 10 purchases over $25 dollars (one per day), and you get to shop our monthly markdowns (see #1) a day early. This way, you beat the rush and secure that mid-century modern credenza you’ve been watching for an additional 25% percent off before anyone else does.



Volunteers who help out for at least 50 hours at the ReStore get just some of our appreciation in the form of a 20% off discount. This 20% off is in addition to any other discounts (see above)! Volunteers also get to see the product as it comes in, but there’s a catch to keep things fair for customers: all new items must be on the sales floor for at least a full business day before volunteers or staff members can purchase them.


Follow the ReStore on Facebook, Twitter or subscribe to our ReStore e-News.

We announce upcoming sales, overstock alerts, favorite new items and special discount days for groups like teachers, veterans and seniors via these channels. For example, if you follow us on any of these, you know that we got 250 brand new lighting fixtures from Mars Lighting in San Francisco. We also surprise our followers with coupons and promotions, but you’ve got to stay in loop to get them!


Meet us on the road.

We’re at farmers markets and trade shows all over the area, and we’re usually giving away coupons or raffling off gift certificates. You can also join the San Carlos Adventure Run to score coupons, or attend an in-store event for more goodies. Like our Facebook page for these updates.


Last but not least, shop often!

We unload new items every day. It’s common to see our regular customers in the store every week… sometimes every day. While we have big plans to make our current inventory more accessible to our customers, for now we’re just a hardworking team of dedicated volunteers and staff doing our best to keep up with the incredible volume of donations we receive (everyday, our receiving area fills to the ceiling with donations, we clean and price and move them to the floor…and it fills to the ceiling again. Good problem to have!). We want our shoppers to have a fantastic experience at the store, and for now the best way is to come in often to see if what we have is just what you’ve been looking for.

Why I Build with Pride

June 25, 2014  |  Leave a Comment

Why I Build is a blog series from Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco community members–volunteers, donors, staff, homeowners and more–about what we do, why we’re here, and why we build. Volunteers share why they signed up to build homes at Habitat Terrace for our first annual Stephen Blake Jacoby Memorial Build With Pride.

Barbara shows her pride AND muscle!

I wanted a volunteer experience different from the work I do, more physical. I came specifically for Build with Pride to do that while meeting other gay and lesbian people.” -Barbara


Scott and Meesha volunteered together to give back

“I was just so moved by Steve Jacoby’s story, and learning that he passed from AIDS like so many of my generation. I’ve committed my career to housing, and this brings together my queer politics with affordable housing advocacy to help others.” – Scott

I had volunteer before in south city, it’s great way to give back to community. I like knowing it’s hands-on, and leaving knowing what I accomplished and that someone is going to live in this house. I love that it’s a pride build—a great opportunity to meet like-minded people with similar values.” – Meesha


Cecelia with her colleague

I came out with Hyatt Pride!” – Cecelia


DJ taking a break at Habitat Terrace

“Since moving to SF a year ago, I’ve realized how drastically unequal housing is and how many hard-working people can’t compete. During Pride season, we’re working towards equality, and it’s important that as the LGBT community marches towards equality, we are also working to recognize the inequality that still exist in our environment and working to fix it.” – DJ


Longtime volunteer Will brought his partner Rick for the first time!

“As a longtime volunteer, I do this to contribute. I’m retired, there’s nothing better to do than give back and I love building. 30 years ago when I started working in construction, I never thought I’d see something like a Build with Pride for my community.” – Will


Catie and Carly, pros with the paint rollers

I moved here a year ago, wanted to get involved to know San Francisco better. I’ve always been supportive of LGBT community, and had made a goal to volunteer seven times in San Francisco. This was a dual opportunity to both giving back and support the LGBT community.” – Catie


Huy showing the foam who's boss

“I’ve volunteered before and thought it was a great idea to come for Pride.” -Huy


“What else would I do?” - Erin (construction manager)

Building Forward: Stephen Blake Jacoby, founder

June 19, 2014  |  3 Comments

Stephen Blake Jacoby, the first elected board president of Habitat San Francisco, oversaw the first full meeting of the newly formed organization in September 1991. But before the next meeting he had passed from complications with AIDS, on Oct. 5, 1991. His legacy today includes more than 210 homes built, free public financial education classes and a burgeoning neighborhood cleanup and revitalization program by Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco. Though he was a critical player in building forward to bring the Habitat for Humanity movement to San Francisco, he never got to see the fruits of that effort.

We rediscovered Steve Jacoby’s story through carefully preserved meeting minutes, where the names of those who first formed a steering committee to try to build affordable homes in one of the country’s most expensive real estate markets were carefully recorded. And we wondered, who was this man who led the formation of this organization? And why would he do it if he knew he was dying?

Through investigative research and interviews with former board members and Steve’s family members, we unearthed the story of Steve Jacoby, founder of Habitat San Francisco, which we share below. We’re also pleased to share an op-ed from Steve’s former partner, Steve Jacoby, in The Advocate Magazine online

Steve Jacoby lived a life of bold action.

Born and raised in Alton, Ill., he grew up dreaming of flying airplanes. He got his pilot’s license at age 15, before he was old enough to get his driver’s license. Steve, throughout his life, was fearless – and flying was one way to demonstrate just how fearless.

Steve’s brother Scott Jacoby said that when their mother would drop Steve at the local airport to practice flying, she’d tell him to call her when he was finished to come pick him up.

“She used to get so mad at him because in the summer he would fly over the house and he would cut the engine and open the door and holler down to my mom, ‘come and get me,’” Scott said.

Steve attended the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., where he trained to fly F-14s, the fighter planes that the bravest, fastest pilots fly. And he was an apprentice Blue Angel – the pilots who dazzle at the annual Air Show above San Francisco Bay.

But he grew four more inches after age 18 topping out at 6-foot-4 – too tall to safely eject from the cramped cockpit of an F-14.  After serving his term in the military, he had to trade that dream for a career as a corporate pilot.

Stephen Blake Jacoby

Though he loved flying, Steve was ready to leave the military when he did. Those were the days even before ”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the military policy – thrown out in 2010 – that allowed gay people to join the military as long as they kept their sexual orientation a secret. Though he was a private person, Steve Jacoby believed in honor and doing the right thing, and didn’t think he needed to lie about being gay.

After his service in the military concluded, Steve joined United Airlines as a commercial pilot, flying routes from Los Angeles to Hawaii and Chicago, and later from San Francisco to Asia.

In May 1985, however, when 5,200 pilots walked off the job in opposition of a two-tier salary scale that they saw as unfair to them and new hires, Steve joined many of the 570 trainee pilots in a strike that would last 29 days and cost United Airlines hundreds of millions of dollars.

Steve stood up to represent the trainee pilots and talked about doing what was right. He continued working for United Airlines after the strike ended.

Steve was handy, which may have been what drew him to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity Los Angeles (now Habitat for Humanity Greater Los Angeles) building affordable homes.  But he also had a deep commitment to service, said Kent Bloom, Steve’s former partner.

Steve, left, with his former partner Kent Bloom

When Steve moved to San Francisco in 1989, it was the last major city that did not have a Habitat for Humanity chapter. Even the founder of Habitat for Humanity International, Millard Fuller, in a story recounted through the years at Habitat Greater San Francisco, told San Francisco Habitat founders that Habitat for Humanity wouldn’t work here. Land was too expensive. Housing prices were too high.

Soon after Steve settled into his life in San Francisco, he was placed on medical leave with United Airlines.

He volunteered for Glide Church many afternoons.

But fate brought Steve back to Habitat for Humanity. Steve was a passenger on a flight, heading to Newark to attend a charity benefit when he recognized Rosalynn Carter, wife of former President Jimmy Carter, sitting in first-class.

Steve passed a cocktail napkin to the flight attendant who handed it to Mrs. Carter’s secret service agent. The note said:

 ‘Dear Mrs. Carter, Thank you and the President’s support for Habitat for Humanity.’

Mrs. Carter waited in the jet bridge to meet him and challenged him to bring Habitat for Humanity to San Francisco.

Several board members who were on the original Habitat San Francisco steering committee remember hearing the story that Steve started Habitat for Humanity San Francisco after meeting Mrs. Carter. It was the tipping point for Steve Jacoby to do at least one more bold thing with his remarkable life.

Steve, along with Tom Cantrell, organized and facilitated a public informational meeting on May 29, 1991 at Stationary Engineers Union Hall on Valencia Street. A 12-member steering committee was formed out of that first meeting and that would become the catalyst for 23 years of Habitat for Humanity in San Francisco.

It’s Steve’s signature on the early meeting minutes from June 28 and July 19 when the steering committee members accomplished the critical and sometimes menial tasks required to start a Habitat for Humanity affiliate like setting up a phone line ($19.95 a month for three months), finding office space and recruiting the 12 board members that were required to meet Habitat International rules.

Steve was elected president of the first board on September 12, 1991 and filed in the meeting minutes from those early days is a personal letter Steve signed four days later to fellow board member David Thompson thanking him for his role in Habitat San Francisco’s formation.

“The addition of your energy to the Steering Committee and dedication to the Habitat philosophy are the seeds of success that will have allowed Habitat for Humanity a foothold in San Francisco,” Steve wrote.

Steve knew he would die from AIDS when he started Habitat for Humanity San Francisco. That was back before the drug treatments that help many of those who contract HIV today to live long, healthy lives. But there was only one approved drug – AZT – back then and it didn’t work for many.

Steve travelled to say goodbye to his parents in Illinois during the same summer that he was charging ahead with Habitat for Humanity San Francisco.

On September 24, 1991 Steve presided over the first meeting of the board as elected president with an agenda including defining directors’ and committee roles. Habitat for Humanity San Francisco would become a reality.

Less than two weeks later, Steve died, October 5, 1991, at his home. Before he died, he told the Habitat board and his former partner that any obituary written about him should include that his cause of death was AIDS. This request was also recorded in Habitat for Humanity’s meeting minutes.

Francis DuBose, an original steering committee and board member of Habitat San Francisco, retired professor at Golden Gate Seminary, who passed away in 2009, said of Steve:

“His spirit was contagious. He inspired the group with his knowledge of Habitat for Humanity, his own previous involvement as a volunteer, his feel for the philosophy behind the movement, and his passion to see it happen, even in San Francisco—the last major city in the country without an affiliate.”

David Thompson, who was elected the next president after Steve, said San Francisco’s Habitat for Humanity was founded by people of many different backgrounds in terms of race, religion and sexual orientation who cared deeply that all of San Francisco could be included in the mission to bring affordable homeownership to people who needed it.

“We decided right from the get-go that they (Habitat for Humanity International) had to come in on our terms or we wouldn’t do it. Those terms had to do with not only nondiscrimination in regards to sexual orientation but also religion,” Thompson said.

Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco proudly carries on that legacy. In tribute to a man who helped this organization establish its values, and who, without his effort, San Francisco may have never had a Habitat for Humanity affiliate.

In remembering Steve’s life, Kent says of Steve: “He just believed in service. And he believed in Habitat for Humanity.”

Get excited: High Stakes 2014

May 28, 2014  |  Leave a Comment

With High Stakes for Habitat 2014 just days away, we asked some of our Young Leaders Circle, hosts of the annual casino night, what they’re most excited for about this year’s event. Don’t worry, you can still buy tickets here to join in the fun.

At this year’s High Stakes, we’re most looking forward to…

…dancing the night away for a good cause in a fancy dress




…showing attendees the We Build video and making all of them cry.


the signature cocktail!

- Amelise

catching up with old and new friends while throwing dice!!

- Peter


learning how to play craps!

- Jane


…toasting to the 41 partner families that moved into Habitat homes in the Bay Area last year and especially to the 4 that paid off their mortgages in full!

- Gretchen

…having a lot of fun gambling for a good cause on a mysterious and exciting night!