By Janet Dunphy
CALIFORNIA, Md. (December 16, 2010) A simple request for information has forged what promises to be an enduring partnership between Patuxent Habitat for Humanity and Chief Petty Officers stationed at Naval Air Station Patuxent River.
Command Master Chief Mark Cummings called Don Parsons, executive director of Patuxent Habitat, to get information for a Web site he was building that connects volunteers with local organizations in need. By the time the conversation ended, a vision for Navy Chief Petty Officers building a Habitat home in the spring had emerged.
"I floated the idea around the chief's community and there was a groundswell of support," said Cummings, a soft-spoken man whose office on base is decorated with Pittsburgh Steelers memorabilia. "As Chiefs, we always seek to lead by example and it's also a way for us to unite as a Chief Petty Officer community and make a difference."
Command Master Chief Cummings estimates that there are well over 350 active duty and retired chief petty officers in the southern Maryland area. All will be invited to participate on a volunteer basis and sponsor the build, planned for April in St. Mary's County. Local active duty and retired Chief Petty Officers are already signing up to participate when the build begins on the future home.
Parsons can't believe his luck. "Habitat depends on the generosity of others for continued success. It's a huge benefit for us to win the support of such an elite group as the Chiefs," he said.
Patuxent Habitat, a recognized affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International, is a seven-year-old nonprofit whose purpose is to build affordable homes for working families in St. Mary's and Calvert counties. The organization is also well known for its ReStore, located outside the main gate of the base in Lexington Park, which opened in 2007. A second ReStore recently opened in Calvert County.
A Patuxent Habitat house costs about $110,000 to build not including land. Families apply to partner with Patuxent Habitat and are required to help build their home. Sponsors, primarily local businesses and individuals with a stake in the community, provide funding and volunteers for specific home builds. Patuxent Habitat is a 501(c)3 organization, so all donations are tax deductible.
"Our military community is the real cornerstone of our community at large. The importance of the reach and contribution of the active duty and retired military here cannot be overstated," said Dan Doherty, president of the PHH board of directors. "When the senior enlisted step forward they bring a special leadership and focus to our mission that we believe will have both an immediate and long term impact."
When asked about his involvement with facilitating local volunteerism, Command Master Chief Cummings said the new Web site (www.stmarysvolunteer.com) and his volunteer efforts are a natural outgrowth of his job.
"As senior enlisted leaders, we understand the importance of community relations," explained Cummings. "The base is an integral part of the community and we want to foster good working relationships." He also sees it as a "uniting opportunity" for Chief Petty Officers in between their annual induction, or training, season for newly selected Chief Petty Officers.
Further, Cummings hopes this sponsorship will set an example for other military organizations and encourage them to volunteer, including enlisted, officers, other retirees, and contractors. "We're grateful to be able to put the Chief Petty Officer sponsorship on this house. This is the essence of leadership from the front," he said. "We hope this might grow into an annual event each spring."
While Cummings is no stranger to organizing, planning, and executing large scale events, he admits he has no building experience. "The beauty of Habitat for Humanity and volunteering is that we're all going to learn some new skills," he said. "The Chief Petty Officers look forward to every part of the process-from breaking ground to watching the keys given to a family. It will be an awesome sense of accomplishment when it's all over."
Now that Parsons has a sponsor for the build, he has to go out to the community and find the financial support for the project. Patuxent Habitat is funded by local individuals, churches, corporations, and foundations.
"Community involvement is essential to our success," said Doherty. "We rely on the support of volunteers to build the homes that enable our neighbors to become homeowners, and we are continuously overwhelmed by the generosity of our business. Together, we are helping one family at a time."
Houses are sold at no profit to selected families with no-interest loans issued over a fixed period. Affordable monthly mortgage payments are repaid from 20 to 30 years and are used to support the construction of more houses. Habitat's focus in on families whose house hold income is less than 55% of the median household income in our area.
The ReStore, a retail outlet where quality used and surplus building materials, furniture and appliances are sold, also helps to finance construction of the homes. The ReStore also provides useful items to the community at discount prices and diverts reuseable materials from local landfills. More than 70 tons have been locally recycled so far.
Earlier this year PHH completed and adopted a Five-Year Strategic Plan that focuses on expanding its mission from building two homes a year to five. The nonprofit expects to grow both its staff and volunteer base to achieve that goal.
Patuxent Habitat has built 13 homes in seven years.
Two homes were completed in St. Mary's County in 2009.
A "Women Build" home, underwritten with a $55,000 grant from Lowe's, was dedicated on Nov. 20 in Calvert County.
An Apostles Build is currently under construction in Calvert County with the hope that it can be dedicated before Christmas.
Patuxent Habitat began incorporating "green build" elements in houses in 2007, including high efficiency HVAC and appliances, additional insulation, and Low-E windows.
For more information on sponsorship or volunteering, call 301.863.6227 or 410.326.9050. Additional information can also be found at