Safe, welcoming neighborhoods are central to a healthy community. And that means ensuring access to adequate housing. Beyond being a place to make memories, a home has a measurable impact on our health. But for too many families in the Triangle, home ownership is a dream out of reach.
Blake Strayhorn and his team at Habitat for Humanity of Durham are working to change that. And this month, they got hands-on some help from the area’s business leaders.
Habitat for Humanity of Durham sets up home builds in Wake, Durham and Orange Counties year-round. Recently, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC) President and CEO Patrick Conway, MD, joined other Triangle executives in the 8th annual CEO Build.
Getting CEOs Out of the Office
Habitat of Durham Executive Director Blake Strayhorn believes that “the real opportunity this gives (Habitat) is to capture the comradery and to capture their (CEOs) imagination.” He admires the grit and passion these CEOs bring to the project every year.
When CEOs take a morning to work outside of the office and swing a hammer, they are using a different set of leadership skills than they normally bring to their work.
This project brought back memories for Conway: “I used to work construction growing up, but I was really out of practice. The first nail was a disaster.”
But you don’t need construction experience to help build a Habitat home. Habitat welcomes volunteers of all skill levels because each person brings unique skills to the build. The business leaders who volunteered for the CEO Build project offered a wide range of talents – the kind of talents they rarely get to use in the boardroom.
Habitat’s Impact on Health
Health issues are often the number one reason families apply for a Habitat home. Strayhorn says, “We hear stories all the time about how medication costs go down and health improves for families once they have a permanent home.” Studies suggest that children growing up in poor neighborhoods are subject to more toxins, noise, and violence, all of which hinder brain development. 
These environmental factors can have a tremendous impact on our overall health. Blue Cross NC recently announced a $50 million initiative that commits $15 million to issues such as domestic violence, housing, transportation, and food insecurity to address the social and environmental determinants of health
This was Conway’s first Habitat project as Blue Cross NC CEO, and he was eager to meet everyone on the build site: “I was impressed by the sense of community. I also loved meeting BJ. She works in patient transport at Duke and had worked all night in the hospital and then came to the worksite to help build her own house.”
BJ is Benjetta Steele, the owner of the 2018 Durham Habitat CEO Build home and she has worked incredibly hard to help build what will soon be her permanent address. On this day, she was working towards her “sweat equity hours” goal, part of her agreement with Habitat for Humanity of Durham. Steele and Conway share a background in medicine and parenting. “She has two boys and the youngest is the same age as my son, 10 years old. She is thinking about further training to be medical assistant or nurse,” Conway said.
Strayhorn says Steele is a great example of an engaged soon-to-be homeowner: “The number one reason people don’t get approved for a Habitat House is because they are hesitant to apply. People take themselves out of the process before they apply. Our best marketing is via word a mouth.” Once approved, a homeowner must fulfill 250 sweat equity hours of volunteering, the equivalent of a down payment.
Habitat for Humanity homes are earned. Dignity and empowerment are vital to Habitat’s messaging and mission. “Everybody that comes to Habitat has to give a lot,” says Strayhorn. Homebuyers work hard toward their dream of homeownership and when they get the keys, they haven’t been given a handout.
The leaders who took part in CEO Build Day worked proudly alongside BJ Steele and the rest of the volunteers. It was a day of tangible progress toward building a healthier community.
2018 Participating CEOs included:
Kari Stoltz, Bank of America
David Baldwin, Baldwin&, Ponysaurus Brewing
Chris Ng Cashin, Bootstrap Advisors
Matt Gregory, Burt’s Bees
Jim Captain, Credit Suisse
Marty Clayton, Duke Energy
Patrick Conway, MD, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina
Del Misenheimer, Eaton
Sherry Hancuff, Grifols
Andrew Burns, Hamilton Point Investment Advisors
Morris Fine, Investors Title Insurance Company
Maria Kingery, Maria Kingery & Company
Steve Vanderwoude, Madison River Ventures
Geoff Lang, MetLife
Jason McGinnis, NeoNova Networks
Lars Von Kantzow, Nomaco
Scott Farmer, North Carolina Housing Finance Agency
John Replogle, One Better Ventures
Art Pappas, Pappas Capital
Russ Helms, Rho
Sally Webb, The Special Events Company
Kenneth Avery, Verdesian Life Sciences
Jack Clayton and Mike Golden, Wells Fargo
(Featured Image Courtesy of: Chris Schnur at SilverLensProductions)