Low Cost Housing by Terri Nighswonger

       A Cleveland business puts their money where their mouth is to help build affordable housing for low income families.

       Thousands of Cleveland residents live in substandard housing with little or no hope of improving their situation. They may work hard, but their poverty does not allow them to get a decent place to live, let alone purchase a home of their own.

       Through Habitat for Humanity, Jeff Roberts and his company, Grace Software Marketing, are getting involved and bringing hope to a hopeless situation.

       Roberts got involved with Habitat while he was in the process of forming an organization called the Acts of Kindness Foundation and writing a book called "Love is Kind." The projects allowed Roberts the opportunity to meet Millard Fuller, founder of Habitat for Humanity.

        "I had a chance to get to know him and in the course of doing that, I wanted to see what was going on in Cleveland," Roberts said. "To my horror, I found out there is a waiting list of 300 families here in Cleveland waiting to purchase a Habitat home."

       Because of the number of people waiting, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Cleveland is no longer even placing families on the waiting list.

        "There are literally thousands of people willing to volunteer, which is a blessing, it's the funding," Roberts said. "The will isn't there and it really galls me. It's not a blessing to God or our community that there have to be that many families waiting when there is a tremendous amount of well-to-do people and well-to-do corporations in our community with the means to help."

       Roberts explained that the whole idea behind Habitat for Humanity, a Christian organization, is to build houses at as low a cost as possible. By using primarily volunteer labor, by not charging the families interest and by spreading the payments over a long period of time, a low income working family has the opportunity to purchase a simple, decent, well-built home.

        "Most of those people are living in homes that you and I would not want to live in," Roberts said. "They are living in areas that we would not want to walk into, that wouldn't be safe for our children. Some of the houses have peeling lead paint and there might be gunshots going off in the neighborhood. They are stuck there. They just don't make enough money to get out of that particular kind of poverty situation."

       A typical Habitat home is about $50,000, Roberts said. Traditionally, only the big companies have stepped up to help their neighbors in need. Roberts and Grace Software believe that it is inappropriate to sit back and say how bad things are if you're not willing to step up and do something about it. As a small businessman, Roberts is lighting one small candle, instead of cursing the darkness, and is encouraging other small businesses to follow suit.

       Last year Grace Software donated $10,000 to Habitat. This year, Roberts and his staff are well on their way to raising the $50,000 needed to sponsor and build one home.

        "We want to lead by example, we want to say to our fellow small- and mid-sized Cleveland businesses, of which there are thousands, you don't have to be a huge company to make a difference and help someone else out," Roberts said. "You don't necessarily have to fund an entire house. Everybody can do something. You can encourage your employees to volunteer and give of their time. You can give what money you can."

       As of the first of October, Grace Software had raised approximately $40,000 through a golf outing and auction in September and through the hard work and generosity of its employees. One staff member and her daughter raised about $700 with a 45-mile bike ride. Forty five of Grace's 60 employees took their year end $100 charity bonus that's given to a charity of their choice and are donating it to Habitat, Roberts said. Others are going to take some of their company year-end bonus and do the same.

        "Grace House" is already under construction and will be ready to house a family before Christmas.

        "It's really very nice to see people who are looking out for others," Roberts said. "It's not because it's my company. This whole topic of helping other people has really been striking a chord in me. It's really a blessing to be involved."

       When the campaign is finished, Roberts plans to take out an advertisement in Crain's Cleveland Business, challenging other companies and their presidents to become involved with Habitat. He also hopes to use several upcoming speaking engagements as a platform to encourage others.

        "Because we've won a couple of awards for sales growth and how we treat our employees, my goal is to go before the secular business community and challenge them and say, 'if we can do it, you can do it,'" Roberts said. "I want to say to the faith based community here in Cleveland, that at the end of the day, when we're standing before the Lord, He's not going to ask us how many times we went to church and how many times we read the Bible, He's going to ask what did we do to help people who are poor, thirsty and in need. I for one would like to be able to say that I did what I could."

       Grace was recently selected one of the best 99 companies to work for in Cleveland. Roberts was chosen, by accounting firm Deloitte and Touche, as one of only three of those companies to provide a case history as to why Grace is an "Employer of Choice" in Cleveland.

       Grace has also donated $31,000 of its calling time to seek donations and to tell people about Habitat.

        "We find that a lot of people don't realize that Habitat operates in Cleveland. They think Habitat is an international organization because they think about Jimmy Carter working for Habitat over in the Philippines. Because of that, people are not getting involved who would otherwise love to do so. It's one of those rare charities that everyone can agree on."

       Roberts also added that anyone who would like to work on a local Habitat house but think that they are all thumbs or have no construction experience, are welcome to volunteer.

        "Habitat has trained supervisors and they are used to working with people who you wouldn't think of as building something," Roberts said. "Women by the way, do very well. They have whole houses put up by women. It's not just a male-oriented thing."

       For more information about making a donation or volunteering for Cleveland Habitat for Humanity call 216-429-1299. To provide help or donations to Grace House, contact Tammy Rehner at 216-321-2000. For more information regarding the Acts of Kindness Foundation, please call Frank Gaughan at 216-321-2000.

About Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity

       Millard Fuller was a young and ambitious businessman who 25 years ago had a goal to make a million dollars. He made his first million and then set his next goal at $10 million.

       Before he could complete his second goal, God got hold of Fuller and convicted him of his greed. According to his writings, even his wife wasn't sure that she wanted to stay with her husband because she didn't like what they had become.

       Like the rich young ruler in the Bible, God required everything of Fuller but unlike the man in the Bible, Fuller was more than willing to comply.

       Fuller gave everything he had away and went to Africa to build homes for poor people. When he returned to the United States, God blessed him with founding Habitat for Humanity, which is now 24 years old. The organization has built 100,000 homes, housing approximately 500,000 people in 24 years.

       Habitat is expanding so quickly around the world that the organization expects the next 100,000 houses to be built in just five years, housing a total of 1 million people.