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Longtime Volunteer Joe Sevilla Lends a Helping Hand to Habitat for Humanity

[Noozhawk note: One in a series of articles highlighting Santa Barbara’s Man and Woman of the Year awards. This year's nomination period is now open.]

At age 73, with 40 years of carpentry under his belt, Joe Sevilla has earned a spot on the couch. Yet he continues to wield his hammer, and many other tools, on behalf of Habitat for Humanity. A compassionate man, Joe volunteers his time and considerable skills to help low-income, hardworking families in need of housing.

 Joe Sevilla
Joe Sevilla has donated his carpentry and construction skills to four Habitat for Humanity projects, three of them in Santa Barbara. (Santa Barbara Foundation photo)

Sevilla learned about house construction, and volunteering, from his parents. When he was 6, they purchased an old house without a proper foundation. Uncles, his big brother and parents all worked hard to restore it.

When Sevilla was a teen, his father and other parents volunteered to paint the interior of his school. His father was the only one who showed up. On another occasion, his mother helped at a pancake breakfast by washing all the dishes and silverware for the hundreds who came for breakfast. Volunteering is in his blood.

Sevilla moved to Santa Barbara in 1973. He worked as a carpenter and eventually formed his own construction company. He began volunteering for Habitat for Humanity in 2007 and has since participated in four projects, three in Santa Barbara. He has great respect for the organization, which he affectionately calls “good ol’ HH.”

He is full of praise for the model through which each adult in the "partner families" contribute a minimum of 250 “sweat equity” hours, after which they buy their home with a no-interest mortgage and monthly payments (that include HOA dues, homeowner’s insurance, utilities, etc.) tailored to fit within 35 percent of their total family income. Habitat’s Homeownership Readiness Program then teaches them basic home maintenance skills.

Last year, Sevilla traveled at his own expense to Nicaragua, where he worked for a week building simple, sturdy housing of reinforced masonry. Although these houses were a definite improvement on what the Nicaraguan partner families had previously, they included no indoor plumbing or kitchens. The work was tough, dusty and fun, and involved placing reinforcing steel, mixing mortar and concrete by hand, lugging heavy buckets of mortar and concrete, and laying block. His daily reward was the gratefulness of the families involved.

“These folks need a hand up, not a hand out, and I always felt that we were working together,” Sevilla said.

He is currently working at Habitat for Humanity’s Canon Perdido Affordable Homes site, where a dozen condominiums are approaching completion. Although his first love is carpentry, he is happy to paint, caulk or install siding. Habitat for Humanity is completely dependent on donations, so every hour donated by a volunteer really counts.

The sweat equity contributed to this project mostly occurs on Saturdays, since the homeowners all have “day jobs.” Husbands and wives enthusiastically pitch in, excited to learn new skills, often exceeding the required hours. Sevilla says he loves seeing the growth of the community feeling among them and saying to them as they leave, tired and dirty, “Look at what you built today!” That never fails to bring big smiles and stirring pride, which make Sevilla feel that he is getting much more than he is giving.

Sevilla is looking forward to the next Habitat for Humanity project in Carpinteria. Until then, he will tend his vegetable and flower garden and participate in long-distance bicycle rides for charity. But nothing beats building “first-class homes for first-class people,” he says.

His parents would be proud of him.

                                                                        •        •

Volunteers enrich all our lives.

Do you know a volunteer who has made a significant impact on the Santa Barbara community? You can nominate that person to be the next man or woman of the year! Just fill out a simple nomination form online by clicking here. Nominations are open until Aug. 26. The awards are sponsored by the Santa Barbara Foundation and Noozhawk.

Suzanne Farwell represents the Santa Barbara Foundation.

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