Kathy McConnaughy was ready to press the reset button on her life. Her father, who had lived with her for his final two years of life, had just died. Without him to care for, McConnaughy began searching for a place where her heart could reside.
At first, she considered that her journey toward a fresh start might take her outside of Ohio, or even the U.S. She talked to a real estate agent about selling her home, and contemplated volunteer opportunities in locations that were thousands of miles away from Cleveland.
When McConnaughy was set to put her home on the market, she learned she could not get what she paid for it. That disappointment inspired McConnaughy to search locally for an immersion experience. She soon found herself working at Greater Cleveland Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore in Cleveland. At the end of her first day, McConnaughy told her supervisor that she wanted to organize the store.
“To their credit, they said, ’sure’ ” McConnaughy recalls. “I love to organize, so I started one aisle at a time.”
Three years and more than 1,500 volunteer hours later, the ReStore is organized and thriving with help from McConnaughy and numerous other volunteers. For her efforts, McConnaughy was named the Ohio Habitat Volunteer of the Year. Sales at the ReStore locations on 2110 W. 110th St. in Cleveland and 4601 Northfield Road in North Randall increased from $853,480 in 2013 to
$2 million in 2017.
“When I started here, I had no idea people would appreciate what I do,” McConnaughy explains in the midst of her workday while wearing a tan smock filled with tools. “But I do believe God gave us each gifts.
“You spend a lifetime trying to figure out where you can best use those gifts, and I really feel He has directed me here. My background, my values, everything fits. I guess when that happens, people notice. It was certainly nothing I did other than what I like to do.”
When Cleveland Habitat CEO/President John Habat talks about volunteers who positively impact his organization like McConnaughy, his eyes shine and a smile engulfs his face. Since taking over Cleveland Habitat in 2011, the number of volunteers increased from 453 to 3,014. The sum of 80,000 volunteer hours in 2017 was equivalent to having more than 40 full-time employees, he says.
“Volunteers make Habitat happen,” says Habat, whose nonprofit celebrated its 30-year anniversary in 2017. “They are inspired. They know homeownership is what really makes the big impact.”
“Food is great, you’ve got to have it. Clothes and shoes are great, but the bag gets empty and the shoes wear out and you are back to where you were. Homeownership changes permanently. It’s a permanent fix.”
Cleveland Habitat has been building on its own permanence since its inception in 1987. Leaders including Cleveland Mayor Frank G. Jackson and major businesses such as Quicken Loans help sustain the work.
In 2017, Jackson announced a Neighborhood Transformation Initiative that aids the rehabilitation of existing homes in neighborhoods including Stockyards, Cudell/West Boulevard, Bellaire Puritas and Buckeye-Woodhill. Twenty-five houses are scheduled for rehabilitation, with Cleveland Habitat receiving $750,000 in government funding in 2018. Habat hopes to raise more than $1 million more to reach the goal of $1.75 million.
“Cleveland Habitat does good work developing ownership housing — which is the best deal in town,” Jackson says.
The Cleveland Cavaliers, whose majority owner is Dan Gilbert, founder and chairman of Quicken Loans, contributed to the cause by donating its 2017 Watch Party proceeds to Cleveland Habitat. In total, the Cavaliers donated $875,000 and the Quicken Loans family of brands donated $195,000. The funds helped Cleveland Habitat achieve a record-breaking fundraising year in 2017 of $2.7 million. It represented a 111 percent increase in funds from the previous year’s total of $1.2 million.
“This is a team effort,” Habat says. “I sometimes feel guilty when I get all of the credit. That’s not how it works. Leadership is important, but there are so many people who feed into this. Collectively, we set off on a new path, and it feels great. It is working. When I started here, we did a house here and there. I never thought I’d see 15 houses a year, and now we are looking at 35 [in 2018]. I never thought we’d have this kind of impact on targeted neighborhoods, and we are. It’s a great feeling, but the need is so overwhelming you never quite feel like you are that successful because there is so much to do.”
From one home in 2010 to 28 in 2017, Cleveland Habitat has experienced a steady increase in housing renovations. In 30 years, the organization has helped 240 people achieve homeownership. In its effort to revitalize neighborhoods, Cleveland Habitat also focuses on assisting people with home repairs. In 2017, volunteers provided this service to 111 residents, compared to 14 in 2013.
“Homeowners make neighborhoods, not renters,” Habat says. “Homeowners watch and protect their investments. Their kids go to the same school year after year. Homeowners are the key ingredient to neighborhood revitalization.”
McConnaughy, too, is aware of the need for a home. Like many others, she has found one through Habitat for Humanity.