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Today kicks off Habitat for Humanity’s International Women Build Week

News Photo by Darby Hinkley Habitat for Humanity Northeast Michigan Executive Director Ted Fines and Jenny Nestell, home ownership program coordinator and volunteer coordinator, hold up International Women Build Week T-shirts. The public is welcome to participate in virtual events this week honoring Women Build.

ALPENA — Today is International Women’s Day, and the first day of Habitat for Humanity’s International Women Build Week.

In a traditional non-pandemic year, live events would be planned throughout the week to celebrate and encourage women to participate in volunteering for Habitat for Humanity.

But this year, it’s all virtual, said Habitat for Humanity Northeast Michigan Executive Director Ted Fines.

“So we are putting together a Zoom meeting with some community members, and we have a couple women coming in to speak on the Zoom meeting about what they’re doing,” said Jenny Nestell, home ownership program coordinator and volunteer coordinator for Habitat for Humanity Northeast Michigan. “We have one that has actually done three builds for Habitat — one was in Hawaii, one was in Portugal, and one was in Africa.”

“Her name is Sue Madden, and she lives outside of Onaway — Black Lake,” Fines added. “So she’s local.”

Madden will share in the Zoom call some of her experiences in participating in Habitat builds around the world.

The Zoom call will be held on Wednesday. For the connection information and time, email Nestell at jennifer.nestell@habitatnemi.org.

Gretchen Kirschner from Builders FirstSource in Alpena will also be speaking on the Zoom call.

She will talk about being a woman in a construction-related field and what led her to take on that role, Nestell said.

“It’s the education,” Nestell said of the Women Build Zoom presentations.

She wants to connect women with the resources they need to either get housing help, or help others with their housing by volunteering.

“It’s letting these women know that one, there are programs that can help them,” she said. “Two, if you’re scared to fill out a mortgage application, we can help you. Don’t be afraid. If you’ve got bad credit, don’t be afraid. Come in and talk to us. And volunteer. Come and help us with a wheelchair ramp build. Come and help us when we get a home build. Pick up a hammer.”

Fines said they are one of only a handful of Habitats in the state participating in International Women Build Week.

“It’s amazing how active we are as an affiliate, as far as advocacy and Women Build,” he said. “We’re participating with Lowe’s in Gaylord.”

He said they received a $5,000 grant from Habitat International, and Lowe’s is sponsoring this Women Build event.

Nestell said everyone is welcome to come help with builds. And you don’t have to be a woman, but this week is just focusing on women.

“They don’t have to come with any experience to help,” Nestell noted. “We’ll teach you how to do it.”

Fines said more advocacy events are to come this spring.

“We got a $1,500 grant from Habitat International for advocacy work in May, June and July of this year,” he explained.

Fines is pushing for the Northeast Michigan Affordable Housing Coalition.

“I’ve got different agencies, individuals, volunteers, that are very, very interested, be it veteran agencies, NEMCSA, Hope Shores Alliance, on and on,” Fines said. “All these things tie together — the advocacy, the Women Build, the need for affordable housing, be it rentals or home ownership, the programs we provide, as far as financial counseling — all this ties together to make our community better.”

He said there is a serious lack of affordable housing in Northeast Michigan, and many of those who cannot find housing are women.

Fines said he got a call last week from a woman with two young children who was fleeing from an abusive relationship. She was living at Sunrise Mission homeless shelter but was getting pushed out after being there for a couple of months, so he gave her the contact information for Hope Shores Alliance women’s shelter.

“There aren’t enough vouchers for hotel rooms, motel rooms, rentals,” he said. “We have a serious problem here, and … our public is just not aware of it. They’re just not aware of the problem that we have here, from homeless to these young women, most of them women — 99 percent of them, that we deal with — with young kids, and trying to help them. It’s sad, and we’ve got to do something.”

He said everyone can do something to help the community.

“What are you doing to make a difference here?” he asked. “We have a short period of time here to make a difference.”

This is their first time doing a Women Build event.

“I’m hoping this will grow into something bigger after COVID,” Nestell said.

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