Zaf Iqbal is busy cleaning a wooden louvered door with a rag that had seen better days as a towel. Other than having some grime that had hardened over time, the door is in excellent shape and should easily fetch some income for San Luis Obispo’s ReStore, one of two county-based retail outlets that help finance construction of new homes for Habitat for Humanity.
The good news for the Tank Farm Road ReStore is that business is brisk. Despite the economy and the doldrums of the building industry, contractors and home improvers can find just about anything for a remodel: windows, lighting fixtures, plumbing, hardware, electrical, cabinets and doors — with many of those items brand new and selling for considerably less than what they would if purchased new.
The bad news is that the two ReStores are in desperate need of a completely different commodity: volunteers.
Zaf explained that when he saw the rough draft schedule for October volunteers, he realized that 14 days were short of workers, and two days no one was signed up at all. In that light, he asked that his volunteer hours be doubled.
“This helps a bit, but does not solve the problem,” says the professor emeritus of accounting from Cal Poly’s Orfalea College of Business.
It’s not as though Zaf and other good souls aren’t already stretched thin with their time when it comes to volunteering.
Zaf sits on the Board of Directors for the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP of the Central Coast — 544-8742), as well as spending time with homebound individuals through Caring Callers. Because he deeply believes that “children are the future,” he also volunteers with the Children’s Resource Network of the Central Coast.
At the risk of putting too fine a point on it, Good Samaritans like Zaf are crucial to sustaining the mission of Habitat for Humanity.
Without the four to six volunteers needed on a daily basis at each of the two ReStores, they couldn’t generate $25,000 to $30,000 a month. Without that income — which is buttressed by grants, donations and mortgages from Habitat homeowners — the San Luis Obispo County organization couldn’t meet its annual budget of around $700,000.
Without that level of income, Habitat couldn’t have financed zero-interest mortgages for 14 homes around the county since 2006. Habitat’s CEO, Julia K. Ogden, says that plans are in the works to build another 15 homes through 2015.
Indeed, a large part of what Habitat for Humanity for San Luis Obispo County does is underwriting mortgages for families based on a handful of criteria: need, steady employment, an income between 30 and 60 percent of the county’s average median income, willingness to invest 500 hours of sweat equity in building their home, being a legal resident of the county for a year and not qualifying for a mortgage elsewhere.
Ogden says the goal of Habitat for Humanity is to give a helping hand, not a handout; families need capital, not charity. As such, she differentiates between “situational poverty” — where the loss of a job or major uninsured illness leaves a family temporarily homeless — and “generational poverty.”
“Those are the generations of people who haven’t been able to own part of the American Dream,” she explains from her office at the San Luis Obispo ReStore. Although it doesn’t happen often, Habitat has been known to foreclose on clients when things haven’t worked out.
But the upside — which involves a thousand volunteers pulling in the same direction each year — is that homeownership floats everyone’s boat: in addition to better health, safety and security, kids who have their own home are more likely to graduate from high school and go on to college; parents are more likely to be involved in community and civic activities.
And, says Ogden, homeownership gives independence from future subsidized support. Toward that end, “Our volunteers are priceless,” says Ogden.
Zaf Iqbal has lived his own version of the American Dream. Born in India, he moved with his family to Pakistan when he was a youngster. He emigrated, alone, to the U.S. in 1964 when he was 18; put himself through college working as an accountant, earned an MBA from Northern Illinois University and a Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska, and ultimately taught at Cal Poly and then as a scholar-in-residence for a year at the American University in the United Arab Emirates.
“It was hard,” he says of his early years as an émigré, “but when I look back, it sensitized me to other things. You never know hunger until you’ve been hungry.
“Every human being deserves respect, regardless of their station in life. It occurred to me that there are literally billions of people who are smarter than I who still go to bed hungry. So I try to do what I can to make a positive difference in someone’s life.”
Or, as Zaf’s fellow countryman Mahatma Gandhi was wont to say: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
If you want to volunteer
Would you like to volunteer to work in a ReStore or a Habitat for Humanity project? Do you have gently used or new building materials or appliances that are taking up room? Would you like a tax deduction for donating such goods? Contact ReStore at 782-0687 or email: email@example.com to find out about donating time, materials or money.
The two local stores are located at 187 Tank Farm Road, Suite 130B, San Luis Obispo, and 3250 La Cruz Way, Templeton. Both are open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sunday from noon to 4 p.m.
Reach Bill Morem at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 781-7852.