Lutherans in the Twin Cities

Thrivent’s Habitat partnership giving nation’s homeless families a new start

Lutheran volunteers are being recruited to put muscle behind the money

Twin Cities area Lu-therans will have many opportunities — both at home, in other parts of the U.S. and around the world — to participate in building or renovating homes for poorly-housed people under a Lutheran-financed effort. It’s all part of a four-part program called “Thrivent Builds with Habitat for Humanity.”

This Thrivent Financial for Lutherans initiative, a four-year effort, is the largest alliance in the 30-year history of Habitat for Humanity, according to Sheila Crowley of Habitat. It is expected that over $105 million of Thrivent-provided funding will be invested in the program, resulting in the building of up to 500 homes per year by 2008.

Under the program, Thrivent Financial is providing 70% of the cost of each home with the remaining 30% raised by local Thrivent chapters, along with Habitat for Humanity local affiliates.

“Dozens of families across Minnesota and Wis-consin will receive a fresh start, thanks to the financial and volunteer support provided by our members and the Thrivent Builds Homes program,” according to Bruce Nicholson. He’s the financial chairman, president and chief executive officer at Thrivent. “Our goal is not just to raise roofs, but to raise hope for those without access to decent, affordable housing.”

The Thrivent Builds Homes program has plans to build up to 312 homes in 43 states in 2006, including 36 in Wisconsin and 33 in Minnesota. Able-bodied volunteers need no particular skills to participate in the house building/renovating projects. Skilled leaders are always on hand to give guidance to workers.

The new Habitat program is a continuation of Thrivent’s ongoing relationship with Habitat for Humanity. Since 1991, Thrivent and Habitat together have built 500 homes. It’s a case of working side-by-side with volunteers and homeowners, creating affordable housing for those hoping to enter the economic mainstream.
Prospective homeowners in the U.S., using the Thrivent template, make a $500 down payment and contribute 300-500 hours of “sweat equity” toward the completion of their home — or someone else’s.

Because Habitat homes are built using donations of land, material and labor (and no-interest loans), mortgage payments are kept affordable. Homeowners’ monthly payments are used to build still more Habitat homes.

Though some people think Habitat for Humanity was started by former President Jimmy Carter, that is not the case. The founders of the Americus, Georgia, organization were Millard Fuller and his wife, Linda. The organization rose to national prominence when Carter and his wife became supporters and volunteers for Habitat for Humanity International (Americus is just eight miles from their home in Plains, Georgia).

Over its 30 years, Habitat has built nearly 200,000 homes, sheltering almost one million people in more than 3,000 communities worldwide.

Thrivent Builds, as a program, includes four parts:

* Thrivent Builds Homes, which builds dwellings for families in need.

* Thrivent Builds Neighborhoods, which concentrates resources on specific communities, building or revitalizing multiple homes in a specific area.

* Thrivent Builds Giving, which provides a match of $1 for every $2 contributed by members age 16 and older up to a maximum of $300 per member in a calendar year.

* Thrivent Builds Worldwide, which enables members to participate in short-term volunteer working trips to build homes across the globe.

The need for simple, decent housing is a big one. Thrivent’s Web site graphically describes the needs:
“Somewhere around the world or in the U.S. or just down the street a family struggles to get by. Squalor abounds, bills don’t get paid, homework is ignored. Health deteriorates — and so does hope. A shroud of poverty envelopes everyone living in substandard housing. It is estimated that more than 5 million families in the U.S. alone live in unimaginable conditions.”

In the international phase of the Thrivent/Habitat program, flexibility and a passport are the key requirements. While Habitat for Humanity has affiliated programs in 100 countries, about 50 countries are considered prime for the Thrivent-funded program. Crowley says she’s looking for Thrivent members and their families to work for one-to-three week stints on houses worldwide, somewhat like a cultural-exchange program. Volun-teers for the international phase are required to make a $350 donation to the program, pay a $100 fee to Habitat and pay their own airfare to the country as-signed. (Thrivent pays a portion of the trip costs for its benefit members.) Housing and food at the international sites are provided by Habitat’s local affiliates.

Thrivent is a not-for-profit Fortune 500 organization with 2.8 million members and has a long record dating back through predecessor organizations (Lutheran Brotherhood and Aid Association for Lutherans) of underwriting the cost of activities to better the lives of members and communities at large.

Find more details on the Thrivent program at www. thriventbuilds.com (including building sites allowing volunteers to select a site nearest them). To volunteer for local Habitat projects, call 612-331-4090. For information about international Habitat projects, or to explore participating in one, send an e-mail to Sheila Crowley at scrowley@habitat. org.