SMITHFIELD – An annual event that raises funds for housing for veterans brought out hundreds of local Jeep drivers and motorcyclists, and raising thousands for the volunteer organization that does the work.
Rolling for Homes is the biggest fundraiser of the year for Habitat for Humanity of West Bay and Northern Rhode Island, an organization with a mission to provide decent living quarters for state residents in need, now in its 30th year.
At the fifth annual event, more than 300 participants took part in a rolling rally, which included a tour past the site of two upcoming builds in Burrillville. The group then convened at the Smithfield Elks Lodge for a sold out luncheon that included participation by other local groups that offer services to veterans, raffles and awards.
Louise Carriere, a North Smithfield resident who serves as co-treasurer of Habitat’s local chapter, explained that the group also provides, “critical repairs for veterans.”
An example of such critical repairs Carriere noted, came through a wheelchair-bound veteran who recently contacted the organization because he was unable to get into his bathroom. In response, Habitat spent $23,000 to completely renovate the space, and also provided a hotel for the man while work was taking place.
“He’s totally grateful for that,” Carriere said.
She noted that many of the roughly 100 jeeps and 225 motorcycles that took part in the event on Saturday, July 17 were driven by other veterans.
“It was a record-breaking year for us,” said former chapter President Amy Gates. “It was a safe run.”
A national organization that has been building homes for those with inadequate shelter for four decades, Habitat operates on the principal is that everyone deserves a decent, affordable place to live. The West Bay & Northern Rhode Island chapter is one of four in the state, and recently purchased two lots in Burrillville for $35,000 with the plan to build duplexes. Gates noted that one of those duplexes – on Oakland School Street and Oakland Street respectively – will house two veterans and their families.
Habitat homes are sold to partner families at no profit, financed with affordable loans, with monthly mortgage payments recycled into a revolving fund used to build more houses. With mortgages with zero or near zero interest rates on the structure only – and not the land – Gates said that the average payment for a Habitat beneficiary is between $700 and $900 a month.
“It gives families the chance to break the chains of poverty,” Gates said.
Rising lumber costs mean the group is spending more per build – an expense of $36,000 – making the fundraiser a crucial element of the charitable all-volunteer organization’s work.
“Pretty much everyone here has a day job,” Gates said of the team, noting that 100 percent of funds raised goes toward upcoming builds. Gates added that she set the chapter’s fundraising goal at $50,000 for the year, and raised $45,000 prior to the luncheon, which put them over the top.
The event also included recognition of several longtime volunteers and corporate sponsors who have made Habitat of West Bay and Northern RI’s work possible. They include AAA, a sponsor since 2017 that provided a $10,000 donation.
Bank Newport, which recently bought some of the mortgages held by the Habitat chapter, was also recognized.
“We will be there, buying more mortgages and making it easier for you to do your work,” said Bank Newport Vice Presidents Carmen Diaz-Jusino.
Earl Marsh, a Cumberland resident and 25-year volunteer with Habitat, who Gates hailed as “the mastermind and arch of all of our builds,” was surprised with an award. A former registered land surveyor and licensed builder with a degree in architecture from Rhode Island School of Design, Marsh oversees construction and design of all of the local Habitat homes. Family members, including wife Barbara Walsh, were in attendance at the luncheon, where Gates also announced a new award in the longtime builder’s name.
And second in charge of construction, Richard Trabing of Uxbridge, Mass., was named the first recipient of the “Earl Marsh Volunteer Award.”
Before the banquet was through the group had another surprise in store for Gates herself, the former president leaving the organization due to relocation after five years of leadership.
Gates teared up as she accepted an award from Carriere, hugging the volunteer with whom she’s helped so many Rhode Islanders improve their lives through homeownership.