As part of our #MeetOurVolunteers feature, we would like to introduce Ellen Prokopow. Originally from Michigan, she has been living in Winchester for the past 27 years. She is retired from a career as an IT systems project manager and HR consultant.
Ellen began building with Merrimack Valley Habitat for Humanity (MVHFH) in the early 1990’s with the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Andover. Later on, she participated in corporate build days with her “then-employer”, and following her retirement, Ellen served on our Board of Directors. Ellen recalls working on the 2014 Builders’ Blitz where we built a duplex home on Acton Street in Lawrence, in one week! Since the Blitz, she fondly recalls volunteering for our ReStore’s big move from the downtown location to the current one located on Andover Street. Both Ellen and her husband Zane are now regular weekday volunteers at the ReStore, proving that you don’t need to hold a hammer to help us build affordable homes.
When we asked her what motivated her to sign up as a volunteer with MVHFH, Ellen, who has been an active participant in social justice initiatives at her congregation for many years, describes her congregations work as covering three components: Community, Justice, and Charity. Justice is working at fixing root causes that lead to inequality: that can be helping immigrants improve their English language skills, link people’s job opportunities and help them with resumes and interview skills, or promote legislative changes to invest in people and communities. Charity is keeping the wolf from the door: working food banks, supporting homeless shelters, managing clothing drives, or collecting furniture when victims are recovery from weather events, earthquakes or a building fire. Community is the bridge between those two: building links among people, government, businesses, non-profit agencies, and faith organizations to improve people’s lives. Ellen believes that building houses for Habitat results in a better economic life for the homeowner families, but also changes the tax base for the neighborhoods, builds stability for the neighborhood, and creates relationships among the people who build, who raise funds, who select and coach families through the homeownership journey. “It’s the total package!”
Ellen feels like she has found her niche in volunteering at the Merrimack Valley ReStore. It allows her to best fit with the time that she has to offer, and she “really enjoys the staff and other volunteer regulars.” Over the years, she has learned a ton of construction skills – she has done “demolition, cleaned trash from vacant lots, bagged leaves from the roof of the Bixby Building on Parker Street. Glued kitchen flooring, staged scaffolding, put exterior siding on two stories up, installed insulation foam boards, mounted firewall ceiling board, dug porch post holes, hammered subflooring, nailed joist hangers, moved equipment and supplies and yes, even piles of crushed stone from the staging area to the construction area . . . and sometimes her job was just to sweep the sawdust and debris from the construction site and prep for the next crew.
When reminiscing about the 2014 Builders Blitz, Ellen mentions that seeing a building site go from foundation to occupancy permit in 5 days blew her away. Her time on the Board helped her learn so much about the behind-the-scenes workings of the affiliate. She hadn’t been aware that some of the fundraising goes for paying for insurance on the tools, building materials, and houses themselves before they are sold to future homeowners. And never was that importance more apparent than following the Market Street fires in January 2008, a property that Ellen helped build. Having insurance helped get those buildings rebuilt in as short a time as possible, so even though there was a delay, the families still were able to get their homes in a surprisingly fast time.
She appreciates that there are many, many ways to contribute as a volunteer with Habitat, and whatever skills and time availability one has, there is going to be a role that fits.
Ellen’s wish is that “every person, every family can get a safe and affordable roof over their head. But not only that but that they feel connected to the community in which they live. Habitat for Humanity addresses both of these.
We like to find out new and interesting tidbits about our volunteers and we were delighted to hear that Ellen was a French major and lived in France for a year as a college student, and is now learning Spanish, in part inspired by her interactions with the people who shop at the Habitat ReStore in Lawrence… so she can be a better resource to shoppers. Ellen also volunteers with MIRA Coalition to register voters in conjunction with new citizen naturalization ceremonies in Boston that take place almost once a week, and she volunteers with another group that works with people seeking political asylum. I coach those clients on writing a resume suitable for a US job search and then work with them on mock interviews. Ellen also loves to cook and she has over 400 cookbooks in her collection. WOW!
Our work, providing affordable homes to local families in need, is only possible thanks to the commitment and dedication of volunteers like Ellen!
Interested in Volunteering?
Whether you’re an individual, small business, a corporation, a community group, a faith congregation, or just a handful of friends – every volunteer increases our impact. Help us with pricing, organizing merchandise, accepting donations, and displays. We’re bursting at the studs with contributions, and we need YOU to help make sense of it all!
The biggest perk is you get to see all new items before they hit the sales floor!
If you are interested in volunteering with us, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.