Chris Zwakenberg brings residents together in service
Chris Zwakenberg builds more than just homes with Loveland Habitat for Humanity. As the group’s faith relations and volunteer director, he’s forges relationships among a diverse team of countless volunteers.
Zwakenberg and his wife moved to Fort Collins in 2016. While he previously wore the hats of salesman, real estate agent and project manager, Zwakenberg said he was always drawn to “mission-driven” work, particularly with churches and humanitarian aid organizations.
Now, he works as Habitat’s man “behind-the-scenes,” maintaining close ties with Loveland faith leaders while recruiting and supervising volunteers.
“Every once in a while, I got a notification on my computer that a volunteer has served over 2,500 hours, or over 3,000, and it just blows me away,” he said. “It’s humbling.”
The Reporter-herald reached out to Zwakenberg to learn more about his role in the group that has used volunteer labor to build more than 150 affordable homes in Loveland.
“It’s a unifying experience, where you have different churches and people who might not agree on ever ything, but they can agree on serving together and helping someone in need,” he said.
“I feel like I’m privileged to see how God is working in all of these ministries at once.”
1) What motivates people to volunteer with Habitat?
People volunteer with Habitat for many reasons! People volunteer to make friends and develop a sense of community, to learn new skills (like construction), to meet high school graduation requirements, for court-ordered community ser vice and just out of a desire to give back and ser ve their community. Many people recognize how expensive it is to live in Northern Colorado and how much of a struggle it is for some individuals and families. We provide practical, hands-on ways to make a dif ference — through our construction site, Restore, administrative opportunities and committees.
2) Do most of your volunteers participate through a church or other organization? Or do more people sign up individually?
In a normal year, we see more volunteers coming in groups through their corporation, faith congregation or just groups of friends. Last year with COVID-19, that flipped since many organizations were no longer allowing group activities. Thankfully, our individuals and “regular volunteers” got us through!
3) What about the work done by Habitat has the ability to unite people from different faith backgrounds?
Housing is a universal need. People from any faith background or no faith background at all would acknowledge that a stable home environment is critical to a flourishing community. Anyone whose faith or value system includes the idea of loving your neighbor would agree that helping someone with a hand up (not a handout) to secure a safe and affordable place to live is a good thing. There may be doctrinal dif ferences between denominations of churches and other faith groups, but at the hear t of our faith community in Loveland, there is a strong desire to love and care for one another and those in need. We have many inspiring leaders in our community that are living sacrificially in order to show God’s love to others — through my job, I get to see it first hand in a multitude of ways. Habitat is just one piece of the puzzle.
4) How has COVID-19 impacted your ability to find and employ volunteers?
COVID-19 has been a whirlwind. We have needed to adjust to constantly changing regulations in order to stay operational and keep everyone safe. Thanks to our wonderful volunteers and staff, we have been able to keep our volunteers safe while continuing to build homes and operate the Restore. We’ve had to limit capacity and even shut down areas of our operations temporarily. This has certainly slowed our production but we have continued to push for ward, even closing on several houses last year for new families in our program.
5) What do you hope volunteers get out of their experience working with Habitat?
We hope that volunteers get exactly what they want out of the experience. We hope that we can provide meaningful volunteer opportunities where people are making a real impact, building relationships, having fun, staying safe and feeling a sense of satisfaction in their work with Loveland Habitat for Humanity.
For information about volunteering with Habitat, visit lovelandhabitat.org.