Helping, pound by pound

From right to left, Doug Patterson, 69, Gary Kling, 64, and Tom Wilson, 62, all work on building one of two Habitat for Humanity homes in Alburgh last Tuesday.

Habitat homes rise in Alburgh

ALBURGH — From Main Street, the two houses are almost hidden by the late spring greenery. On the front of one, a “Habitat for Humanity” sign hangs, and on any given Tuesday, half a dozen retirees hammer, saw and measure inside.

“All right, we’re in the ballpark,” said Franklin Grand Isle Habitat for Humanity coordinator and Georgia resident Art Liskowsky, 67. He watched last Tuesday as retired IBM employee and South Hero resident Bob Buermann, 57, fit a staircase in one of the two Alburgh homes.

“Can you live with it, the pressure?” Liskowsky jokingly asked.

“No, but that’s why you don’t pay me so much,” said Buermann, joking right back.

Buermann, in fact, is paid nothing. He is a Habitat for Humanity volunteer, and each Tuesday, anywhere between three and seven other IBM retirees join Buermann in a group he organized, the “IBMers,” and help build the two homes in Alburgh.

Last week, Tom Wilson, 62, of South Hero, Gary Kling, 64, of Essex, and Doug Patterson, 69, also of South Hero and a self-described “fake” IBMer, all worked in the basement portion of the home as Buermann and Liskowsky fit the stairs above. When asked why they were there, each said he was interested in helping his community.

“I retired, [and] I figured it was time to give back,” said Wilson. “I look forward to Tuesdays.”

Kling said he felt the work was the perfect fit for him, which is why he asked to become an honorary IBMer. “I retired about a year ago,” he said. “I was looking for some work to do that would help the community but would not be overwhelming.”

Kling added, “This seemed like a good balance and here I am.”

Patterson said he simply likes the work. “I moved here from southwest Pennsylvania and I’ve worked with Habitat and enjoyed it,” he said.

As for Liskowsky, he began working with Franklin Grand Isle Habitat for Humanity about four years ago after retiring as the director of Cold Hollow Career Center in Enosburg Falls. He also served as CHCC’s building trades instructor for a time.

“I’ve always loved building,” said Liskowsky. “I’m retired – I’ve got to do something.”

He added of his volunteer work, “It’s fun.”

Liskowsky first acted as coordinator for the construction Pleasant Street home in Enosburg Falls, which was completed in 2012. He is now overseeing the Alburgh homes project, which began midsummer 2014.

Each house, a split level with three to four bedrooms, sits on almost two acres of land purchased by the organization in 2008. While one house is farther along than the other, the goal is to have both completed by the winter, said Liskowsky.

The determining factor will be the volunteers. While the IBMers have their own day to help out every week, anyone from the general public can show up on Saturdays. Those weekend workdays are overseen by Kenny Miller, a local carpenter from Enosburgh.

“We have some hardcore volunteers,” said Liskowsky. “Fortunately we have some talented [people]. They carry us through any given weekend.”

He added, “They do this crazy work, and they’re good.”

The families

In addition to volunteers, members of the families chosen to live in the homes also help on Saturdays. Liskowsky said that 500 combined hours of “sweat equity” from family members and their friends is part of the Habitat for Humanity building process.

“There’s always at least one, two, three or four members representing the family,” said Liskowsky.

There are also subcontractors who help with the more technical aspects of the house. While these people are paid, Liskowsky said Franklin Grand Isle Habitat for Humanity tries to keep house construction as economical possible. Four bedroom houses like those in Alburgh can cost around $100,000 – a price that a family does have to pay off.

“These are not free houses,” said Liskowsky. “[Families] have a mortgage.”

He added, “We just try to keep the cost as low as possible. It’d be nice to keep the models down to the $80,000 to $90,000 range.”

Because of that responsibility, families are chosen through an intensive screening process. One family member must have reliable employment and the family must be currently living in substandard housing.

“There has to be a problem,” said Liskowsky. “They’ve got to get these people out.”

He added that applicants aren’t hard to come by in Franklin and Grand Isle counties.

“The need is everywhere,” said Liskowsky. “There are plenty of families that are in situations out there that need help.”

He added that Green Mountain Habitat Humanity began to help families in tricky housing situations. The Franklin Grand Isle chapter, which started in 2003, has completed six homes thus far.

“This is the help up,” said Liskowsky, “the lift up that Habitat does for those who are employed but are stuck.”

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