By RENEE FITE
Sometimes, to better serve others, you have to help yourself.
Tahlequah Area Habitat for Humanity, the nonprofit organization known for providing affordable homes for people in the community, is rehabilitating a building that houses several nonprofit agencies.
Habitat for Humanity staff and volunteers have claimed the corner at College Avenue and First Street for new purposes.
After opening an office and sharing the building with Kid Connections for four years, Habitat added a 4,000-square-foot Surplus Store in the back. This past September, the organization purchased the building and began renovating the administration area.
Work on the 8,500-square-foot space is nearing completion, and includes a new office space that is for rent. The nonprofits Kid Connections and Cherokee County Legal Services rent space there.
“It started with donations,” said Linda Cheatham, executive director of TAHFH, as she proudly showed visitors around the new and improved office space. “People called us all the time to donate used appliances and building materials and we didn’t have room for storage for those items.”
Many Habitat affiliates have ReStores, a Habitat trademark, Cheatham said.
“Our affiliate felt strongly that we could turn these donations into revenue to help build more Habitat houses in Cherokee County,” she said.
The Surplus Store carries everything - furniture, décor and other household items - including the kitchen sinks.
Habitat is applying for the ReStore trademark, and hopes to gain approval this year.
The purchase of the building came when it was realized that, for not much more than they were paying for rent, they could negotiate a purchase price with the previous owner and turn a rental fee into a mortgage payment.
“After purchasing the building, we implemented a plan to renovate and make better use of the space generating private offices for our current occupants, as well as Habitat,” Cheatham said. “We also have generated an additional private office that is available for rent Feb. 1.”
The space isn’t just for nonprofits
With a private entrance, windows and use of a conference room and kitchen, the office rents for $900, with utilities paid. It is available to any business seeking space, and not exclusive to nonprofits.
“It’s important to Habitat to have a safe and compliant building, so Fire Chief Ray Hammons has been invited numerous times to inspect our building,” she said. “And we’ve recently received out safety certificate, stating all systems are up to code.”
Decades-old HVAC systems were replaced, she said, and lighting was upgraded by Talking Leaves Job Corps students, working under the license of a local contractor. Now the bathrooms are being upgraded to allow wheelchair access.
“We used a lot of items from the Surplus Store; we pay for the items we use,” she said.
Other growth has been with staff.
“Experience Works has provided two workers, one as a cashier and one as an administrative assistant,” Cheatham said. “We hope to get a third to do maintenance and to repair donations. We’re trying to divert items that may be going to the landfill to be usable.”
The organization recycles what it can’t sell.
“We have to be careful what we sell in the store to be sure all the items meet federal guidelines. We’ve been lucky to be under Habitat International, our parent company, because they keep us up to date on federal regulations, which effect surplus stores and mortgage companies.”
Experience Works is a federal agency, formerly called Green Thumb, that puts senior citizens to work in nonprofit agencies.
As renovations are wrapping up, plans for House No. 21 are being made. Over spring break, 25 college students will be volunteering, and in June, 100 volunteers from the Maplesville, Ill., United Methodist Church will come to work on the house.