“Sometimes we are forced in a direction we should have found on our own.” — Sue Z. Hart
A Life Changed by Accident
In 1998, Sue was a successful Area Manager with a direct sales company. She enjoyed having a home office and raising her daughters in the house she bought as a single mom, until a debilitating accident forced many life-altering changes. Sue had to sell her home and find a new career. As a way of healing, Sue discovered the healing power of laughter and the rewards of volunteering.
One Friday afternoon, when she was feeling sorry for herself she remembered the proverb, “I felt bad that I had no shoes until I met a man with no feet.” She decided she needed to leave the pity party and do something to help others. Sue had heard great things about Habitat for Humanity and decided to give the local affiliate a call. She was on a job site the next day. It was a whisper of the exciting opportunities to come over the next few years.
In 2002, Sue joined the Snohomish County Habitat for Humanity Board. In 2004 another accident brought about more changes, Sue decided to go back to college for a degree in Business/Construction Management. Sue knew firsthand the devastating effects disabilities (even temporary ones) can have on lives, she went to work as the Student Programmer for the Service for Students with Disabilities (SSD) at Edmonds Community College (EdCC). To offset college tuition she applied for the All USA Scholarship in which she wrote about a vision she had. Sue had noticed even though we had more ways to stay connected we were actually connecting less. Sue wanted to find a way to connect and engage people to build a stronger community.
In 2005, Sue became VP of Construction on the Habitat Board. Sue noticed volunteers had a heart to serve but lacked the construction skills they needed to be productive while site supervisors were frustrated that they didn’t have skilled volunteers. Sue started to look for a solution. At a Habitat Conference that fall, she met Mark Van Lue, who had authored the “Cornerstone” training program, designed to give new Habitat home owners the skills to help build and maintain their homes. Sue convinced her Board to buy the rights to use the curriculum but little did she know ten years later Mark would again play an important role.
“I believe our society is in great need to believe there is still goodness in the world. We can only be responsible for what we do as individuals, but if what we do can help others feel safe enough to engage, then we have a responsibility to do what we can to make that happen. By being part of something bigger than ourselves we make a difference not just in our life but also in the lives we touch along the way.”
— Sue Z. Hart, All USA Scholarship Application, November 2004
God’s Perfect Timing
Although the Board had agreed to buy the curriculum, how to implement and pay for the training rested on Sue’s shoulders. In early 2006, EdCC and SSD was awarded one of only eight “Project Reach” grants across the country. Its purpose was to focus on providing Service Learning opportunities for students with disabilities. She had now found a way to fund the construction training program.
Sue recruited Dave McKnight as the lead instructor, an experienced builder and remodeler, who just moved to Washington State from Detroit and Warren Sandvig, a disabled Construction Management student with a wall covering and Union Trainer background. With modifications to the original “Cornerstone” curriculum we developed an inclusive program that educates, empowers and engages the community with any ability. It wasn’t until after the first class she realized her vision of ‘building community through service’ came to life in her innovative “Building Beyond the Walls” volunteer construction training; an inclusive basic construction training program for those who want to volunteer on construction sites.
During the three year grant period Building Beyond the Walls held four trainings. The 72 participants came from all walks of life including foreign exchange students, EdCC construction programs as well as a Dean, college staff and faculty, a homeless man, Habitat family partners, a judge, Ex-con, business owners, City officials and many other community members, 30% had documented disabilities. Participants found a new self-awareness and empowerment. At the end of each session we did a reflection survey where participants said it is a “safe” environment to learn and meet new people. They were “empowered” and “changed” in ways they did not expect. In 2007, our participation in the Project Reach grant won Edmonds Community College the Service-Learning and Civic Engagement “Collaboration with Business and Industry” award from the Community College National Center for Community Engagement.
In 2008, the grant ended, so did the rights to use the “Cornerstone” curriculum. In 2009, Dave moved out of state and Warren unexpectedly passed away. The modified curriculum went with them. Knowing how much the training had impacted lives Sue wanted to find a way to bring her program new life. One participant’s words in particular tugged on her heart; Gerard, is a veteran amputee and wheelchair user. Gerard told Sue at the end of his training class, “I use to look around my house and think, ’who could I get to do that for me?’ Now I look around my house and think, ‘what tools do I need to do that myself?” She knew she needed to persevere.
Sue coordinated several events but struggled to find the right people who shared her vision to set the program in full motion. In 2015, she found WonGeration who agreed to be her fiscal sponsor allowing her to operate as a non-profit. This opened many doors. She received a generous grant from The Seattle Foundation providing funds to move forward. Sue felt one of her biggest obstacles to recruiting skilled instructors and expansion was curriculum.
One evening, at a loss, she asked herself, “What is one thing I can do to move forward?” In a full circle moment, she decided to look up the original author of the “Cornerstone” training program and inquire what he might charge to allow her to modify parts of his curriculum to fit her needs. What happened next brought her to her knees in gratitude. Not only did Mark Van Lue give her freedom to use his curriculum, he offered to help rewrite it and help Sue take her program to the next level!
Sue can’t wait to share what comes next! Stay tuned!