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August 16, 2013
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Nevada County Habitat for Humanity volunteers lend a hand

The typical notion of a Habitat for Humanity volunteer is of a construction worker, which makes up a vibrant part of the volunteer base. But helpful hands in other areas are needed and put to work as well.

Volunteers fill out an application, their skills are assessed and they undergo orientation, training and support. They work side by side with skilled workers, some of whom have lifelong experience in their trade, whether in areas such as administrative and business services, construction, the ReStore, fundraising or event coordination.

Aside from construction, Habitat for Humanity also uses volunteers for office support, paperwork filing and data entry, ReStore customer service, restocking and donation assistance.

“If people are interested, we have a lot of different venues,” said volunteer coordinator Tinley Ireland. “It’s great when we have a specific need and can match with a specific skill and interest.”

Construction Committee Chair and Site Construction Supervisor Frank Sobrero has served with Habitat since about 1999, after he retired from AT&T in San Francisco and moved to his wife’s hometown in Nevada County.

He learned about Habitat from his church, St. Patrick’s, joined the crew and became committee chair. He is now leading the Heritage Oaks development on Whiting Street in Grass Valley, which has been a rewarding experience, he said.

“A lot (of people) have a misconception that it’s some kind of hand-out. We call it something different. It’s a hand up, not a hand-out,” Sobrero said.

Sobrero had always been a woodworker, he said, and performed office building construction for AT&T, but he learns something different every day from building the homes.

“I’m working harder now than when I was getting paid to work, and everyone who comes out there says the same thing,” he said.

All homes are typically subjected to eight inspections throughout the building process, Sobrero said, including a final inspection to make sure everything is up to code at the end.

One volunteer in particular has been a carpenter all his life, so he is teamed up with other volunteers who know about framing or plumbing, offering a chance for all to learn something new. The volunteers include people from all walks of life, Sobrero said, including skilled and unskilled, trade workers, former school teachers, all of whom want to learn to give back to the community.

Women are welcome among the construction volunteers, who typically work two days each week, and are especially encouraged to participate in women’s build events, hosted periodically in which women’s organizations form teams to fund-raise and help with construction.

Construction volunteers are provided lunch by local organizations, churches and political groups, Sobrero said.

A typical day for Sobrero includes making a list of all the tasks that need to be completed, the number of volunteers for that day, and making assignments.

“When we all come together on that work day, I can say, ‘This is what you’re going to do today relative to plumbing, or framing or electrical,” Sobrero said. “Key people don’t need a lot of direction. They say, ‘What do you want to do today?’ and I say, ‘Let’s get electrical done on the second floor; here are three people.’”

Sobrero also has the task of getting the tools and supplies necessary for each day, which can be unpredictable.

“You can’t ever figure out everything in the way of materials and supplies,” he said. “A lot goes on getting the tool or supplies for the operation, and the next time I say, ‘What did we get done … we need to finish this,’ and that progresses all the way until we’re done.”

After the completion of a job, the crew feel a sense of accomplishment, Sobrero said.

“It’s beautiful. Everybody stands back and says, ‘We did that,’” he said. “I’m just proud to be a part of the organization. I met a lot of great new people, new friends, who are all there for one reason — to volunteer to work to want to build something.”

Habitat has a consistent group of volunteers, but orientation sessions are regularly offered for newcomers, Ireland said. Volunteers are also needed for Habitat events, like the annual Street of Dreams fundraiser, which will be at 6 p.m. Oct. 11 at the Miner’s Foundry, which will include a silent and live auctions with dinner.

“We need lots of volunteers for that to put together signs and baskets of auction items,” Ireland said. “Sometimes there’s huge amounts of work, other weeks we just need a few people to come in. We do tend to have more interested volunteers than available work on construction, but we do want anyone willing to help us out … we like to maintain a balance of learning and skills, old and new.”

Habitat for Humanity has a volunteer appreciation party in September with a dinner and awards.

“We couldn’t do it without them and their work and dedication,” Ireland said.

A volunteer form is available on the website at It can be mailed, faxed or emailed to the Habitat office at Nevada County Habitat for Humanity P.O. Box 2997, Grass Valley, CA 95945 or emailed at

To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email or call 530-477-4230.

“I met a lot of great new people, new friends, who are all there for one reason — to volunteer, to work, to want to build something.”
Frank Sobrero
Nevada County Habitat for Humanity construction supervisor

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The Union Updated Aug 16, 2013 11:54PM Published Aug 18, 2013 03:08PM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.