Lake Club neighbors and Stock Signature Homes team up to build homes for Habitat for Humanity Sarasota, garnering results that stretch beyond four walls.
Growing up, good-natured Lake Club resident Jay Traverso was told he could do anything if he only had the right tools.
“I have tools I have only used once because I needed it for one job that I will probably never do again,” says Traverso, who says he can now do just about anything when it comes to home maintenance or improvement. “But without that unique tool, I could never have gotten that job done. My dad would tell me to get the tool and try it. He taught me a lot. But mostly he taught me to always try and do it yourself first.”
Five years ago, upon retiring and moving from Washington, D.C., to Lakewood Ranch with wife, Marybeth, those tools provided Traverso a clear path to Habitat for Humanity Sarasota. He’s now a regular volunteer as a project and team leader for the nonprofit, dedicating about 15 hours a week and up to 600 hours a year to the homebuilding efforts.
“With many of the charities, you don’t get to see who is getting money, but with Habitat you see those people day in and day out,” says Traverso. “It’s a good feeling to be out there helping those you meet.”
But some might say Traverso’s biggest role yet with Habitat Sarasota was his recent success organizing an unprecedented business/citizen partnership to build two homes in Hammock Place, a Sarasota neighborhood made up entirely of Habitat homes.
It started over breakfast.
Banking on what he says is a genuine care for the community, Traverso invited several Lakewood Ranch builders to a breakfast introducing Hammock Place and, of course, seeking sponsorship and funding for the project. Naples-based Stock Signature Homes came forward to help out.
“We are philanthropic as a company and we have always done a multitude of giving,” says Brian Stock, CEO of Stock Development, who is no stranger to Habitat for Humanity given its involvement in Naples. “We’ve been fortunate in our company to be able to give back. It’s important to me and our employees.”
To begin, Stock committed to sponsor two Hammock Place homes (it doesn’t intend to stop there). Along with that sponsorship came the need for volunteer commitment on the sites. Although Stock had some dedicated staff to offer, it wasn’t exactly clear, at first, how it would meet the 400-hour volunteer (200 per home) requirement. Traverso found a new tool in the form of his Lake Club neighbors’ goodwill.
He put the word out on NextDoor, a neighborhood communication app, and went door to door himself. The initial neighborhood response about a partnership with Stock was positive, and by the time the project was ready for the Lake Club team, 24 people had signed on to volunteer.
“I was surprised at how willing many of the neighbors were to try something new,” says Traverso. “In many cases, I knew it was something way out of their comfort zone.”
Many Lake Club residents who couldn’t help physically made financial donations, and some chose to deliver snacks and treats during workday break times.
“It was amazing how many people took time out to do it,” says volunteer Mary Jane Chamoy. “Everyone did whatever they could, and that is what it is all about.”
By the time the second work week came around in late March, the number of volunteers for the Stock/Lake Club partnership had almost doubled, including a few staff from Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, developer of Lakewood Ranch, as well.
“In the first three weeks alone, we built the walls for two houses using 40 unique neighbors, and spent a total of 550 [Lake Club] man hours,” says Traverso.
What started out as a neighborhood volunteer commitment grew into a communitywide effort and introduced many of those first-time volunteers to a nonprofit that relies on more than just financial support to thrive.
"It’s all about the goodwill, but in this case it’s the goodwill and also bringing the resources and manpower."
— Renee Snyder, Habitat of Sarasota CEO
“It’s all about the goodwill, but in this case it’s the goodwill and also bringing the resources and manpower,” says Habitat of Sarasota CEO Renee Snyder. “What volunteer time does for the organization is allow us the ability to deliver a more affordable home to our families.”
Each Habitat home is intended to be a permanent and affordable housing solution.
Once awarded the home as part of the Habitat program, recipients are expected to make the monthly interest-free mortgage payment. Homes are matched to families who have put in the required time and other qualifications to meet program standards.
“People have a weird conception of who gets these homes,” says Traverso. “You find out that in many cases they are working their butts off and for whatever circumstance they can’t seem to get ahead.”
Hammock Place, which will eventually contain 40 homes, is located off Hammock Place Road, just east of Beneva Road and across from the Bobby Jones Golf Course.
Location was key to shorten commutes and offer home recipients more time with their families. The deed-restricted homes come with appliances and include amenities such as a two-car garage, a screened-in lanai, and lawn service. The construction itself is high quality, using innovative products and materials in an effort to make each home energy efficient, and therefore more affordable.
The bulk of the Lake Club sweat equity was used during the installation of insulating concrete forms (ICFs) as the exterior walls of the two homes. ICFs, which are lightweight hollow foam blocks, go together like Legos and hardly seem sturdy. Once braced, reinforced with rebar, and filled with concrete, though, those same featherweight ICFs not only meet hurricane standards but are said to be five times quieter than a wood-framed house and much more energy efficient. The forms also allow volunteers to help with the installation no matter what their physical ability and skill level.
“I am not handy at all; I don’t know how to do anything mechanical,” says Lake Club resident Jim Buda. “But I learned how to use a riveting gun. And my wife was cutting rebar.”
“Never in a million years did I imagine I’d know how to use a jigsaw,” says Marybeth Traverso, who was also using a chopsaw by the end of the second day on the project.
The Lake Club volunteers learned from the guidance of both Habitat staff and experienced volunteers and on-site crew leaders like Mike Besselman, who volunteers for Habitat Sarasota three days a week.
“The Lake Club volunteers were willing to work and came out with the right spirit,” says Besselman. “They learned well.”
The neighborhood worked as a team not only to meet, but exceed the hours required for a Team Build. And even though there was little time for socializing, they either gained or reinforced respect for their neighbors.
“The neighbor bond grew stronger with the opportunity to help and stand back and say we did this,” says Marybeth Traverso. “We are a tight-knit community, and the people who came out to help had a really good time.”
“It opened my eyes to what Habitat does for people,” says Tig Winsler, a first-time volunteer who had the chance to work on-site with a future home recipient. “The concept that the homeowners are invested and able to achieve so much with just a little help is amazing.”
Although technically the organized portion of the Lake Club commitment is over, most neighbors say they will continue to volunteer for Habitat Sarasota. This effort may have even opened a door for more Lake Club community-organized hands-on volunteer work. It certainly set an example for how a neighborhood can make an impact.
“These are not just retired people,” says Jay Traverso referring to the Lake Club residents, himself included. “These people are just people, and they are willing to get out there and get dirty.”