What gets missed a lot is how much Habitat does in our communities…at the heart we are a grass roots organization…we respond to affordable housing needs in our communities…

Kahya Fox

Executive Director, Habitat For Humanity La Crosse Area & ReStore

We sat down with Kahya Fox of Habitat For Humanity La Crosse Area & ReStore. We talk about programming, what they offer communities, how it got its start, how we can support it, and what’s next for this multifaceted organization.

We also touch on the Forward La Crosse campaign, which is a campaign encouraging the public input in updating the City of La Crosse’s Comprehensive Plan.

Special thanks to our Podcast Sponsors!
Frozen River Film Festival
Transcript

Amy Gabay 00:00
This podcast is brought to you by People’s Food Co Op, a community owned grocery store in downtown La Crosse, Wisconsin and Rochester, Minnesota that promotes local farmers and producers through an emphasis on fresh, healthy, sustainable food. Anyone can shop, everyone is welcome. For more information, visit them online at PFC.coop. This podcast is also brought to you by Trempealeau County Tourism. Whether your idea of fun is bicycling, hiking or canoeing, afterwards head into the heart of one of their welcoming communities to experience historic architecture, independent shops and locally owned dining establishments. Visit Trempealeau County Tourism online. Artspire is back with a full weekend of art at the Pump House Regional Arts Center. Enjoy live music from Cloud Cult, Bill Miller and B2wins, plus a fine art fair, interactive art projects, and visual and performing arts June 10th through 11th. Learn more at artspire@thepumphouse.org. We sat down with Kahya Fox of Habitat For Humanity La Crosse Area & ReStore. We talk about programming, what they offer communities, how it got its start, how we can support it, and what’s next for this multifaceted organization. We also touch on the Forward La Crosse campaign, which is a campaign encouraging the public input in updating the City of La Crosse’s Comprehensive Plan. You can find more conversations, food reviews, live music and events on our website lacrosselocal.com. I’m Amy.

Brent Hanifl 01:31
I’m Brent.

Amy Gabay 01:32
And this is La Crosse Local.

Kahya Fox 01:35
My name is Kahya Fox. I’m the Executive Director at Habitat for Humanity La Crosse area. And I was born up north in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. I was a graduate of Chi high. So you know go Cardinals. And I came to La Crosse to go to college at UW-La Crosse, and fell in love with the community. And so after I graduated, I stuck around. So I have been here for well over 20 years in the La Crosse area. And I started working in basically nonprofits as soon as I graduated from college. So I worked at the Wisconsin National Guard Challenge Academy. I’ve worked at Coulee Cap. And now I’ve worked my way over to Habitat and I’ve been the Executive Director here for the past six years.

Brent Hanifl 02:23
I think everyone has probably heard of Habitat for Humanity in some way or another. You see the sign, see the store. Can you kind of enlighten us, you know what the organization is all about?

Kahya Fox 02:32
Oh, absolutely. So, like you said, I think the majority of Americans have an idea of what Habitat for Humanity is. You know, we see Jimmy Carter and, you know, homes being built by volunteers. And so we all have a basic understanding of what is Habitat. But I think what gets missed a lot is how much Habitat does in our communities. So we’re part of an international organization. But at the heart of Habitat, we are grassroots organizations. So there’s 1,400 Habitat affiliates across the United States, of which Habitat La Crosse is just one of them. And what we do is we respond to affordable housing needs in our communities. And the beautiful thing about all Habitats is that, you know, we get to respond to those needs based on how those solutions work within each community. So our Habitat affiliate, not only do we build and remodel homes for first time homeowners, we also have housing repair programs, we do neighborhood revitalization programs, we have a reclaim program, where we sell the tutorials, we have environmental impact programs. So there’s just a breadth of different things that we do, not only to provide safe and affordable housing for people in our community, but also just how to make our communities and neighborhoods and citizens come together to make our communities better places to live, work and play. So, you know, we have so many different things that we do here. And so a lot of times that gets kind of washed because people just say, well, you build houses. Well, no, we do things all the time. So for example, this past weekend, we had Neighbors Day. It was over 500 volunteers, helping 200 residents in the communities get their yards ready for spring. So we are doing so many things in our community to make it better.

Brent Hanifl 04:13
You talk about building, that you’re more than building, but you know, you have just on your website 30 years and Building, basically you’re celebrating that as a milestone. Was that the original like how it got its start and kind of grew from there, what was the origin story of the organization?

Kahya Fox 04:27
I love our Habitat origin story. So we actually were formed in 1992. So like you said, if you do the math, we are 30 years old. But what it started as was really honestly a grassroots protest march. So about 100 residents in the city of La Crosse said you know, affordable housing is a massive issue in our community. So they literally got out picket signs and they came together and they walked across La Crosse saying, hey, you know, affordable housing is an issue. People need to pay more attention to it. We need to put more resources behind it. And you know, they made the front page of the paper, they really raised awareness about affordable housing. And after that march was complete, you know, everybody that was part of it came together and said, okay, you know, we’re working to raise awareness. But what can we do boots on the ground, to really, truly make an impact on affordable housing in our community? And they said, you know, let’s form a Habitat affiliate. And they did. And so the first many years of the Habitat for Humanity organization was literally run 100% by volunteers. So there was no paid staff. It was just really dedicated and concerned citizens that helped make Habitat for Humanity the organization it is today,

Brent Hanifl 05:38
Looking at your programming, which you kind of went over a little bit. Everything from you know, home ownership to repair to neighborhood revitalization time. So how does the Restore fit into it?

Kahya Fox 05:52
So the Restore is just such a unique thing for nonprofits. So you don’t usually think about nonprofits like running retail space, but the Habitat ReStore is located out by the La Crosse county landfill right off of Highway 16, just past Woodmans. And it’s a home improvement slash home goods store. So we take donated materials, couches, doors, windows, siding, flooring, plumbing, electrical, knickknacks, books, you name it, we take it here from, you know, wonderful partners, businesses and individual donors. And then we bring them on to the floor, we sell them at anywhere from 50 to 75%, off retail. So it makes a great impact for people looking for discounts. And then all of the proceeds from the sales of those items actually go to support our mission here at Habitat for Humanity. So it’s a retail space. Since we opened our doors, we’ve diverted over 9 million pounds from the landfills. So there’s all these beautiful secondary benefits, but at its heart, the Restore is a way for our organization to fund our mission.

Brent Hanifl 06:56
You kind of touched on it, you know, getting a start locally in La Crosse that was basically all volunteers. How can people get involved? You know, from volunteering, can they give money, like what are some ways they can jump in?

Kahya Fox 07:07
There are so many ways that folks can get involved with Habitat for Humanity. So you know, we have volunteers at the Restore. We have volunteers in our office and with any of the events we have, we also have volunteers on a construction house. Our Habitat homes are still made primarily by volunteers, it takes about 175 individual volunteers, and about 2,500 volunteer hours per home we build, and we build anywhere from five to seven homes per year. So when you think about that cadre of volunteers that gets up in the morning and lifts the hammers and does the work. That’s a lot of people that are committed to helping support affordable housing in our community. So you can actually go to our website at habitatlacrosse.org, and we have an online volunteer application that you can fill out. If you want to help us on the construction site, you have to have zero experience, we will teach you everything you need to know. So it’s kind of a win win for volunteers. And then if you want to make donations, we also have opportunities to make donations on our website. And we take because we are building homes, we take donations, not just cash but in kind as well. So we have a lot of really great partners in the community that donate, you know, materials and appliances and whatnot for the homes that we build.

Brent Hanifl 08:18
What’s next for you? What are you excited about anything coming down the road that we should know about?

Kahya Fox 08:22
Oh, there’s so many things to be excited about at Habitat, every year is just something new. But we are very, very blessed to have been awarded a $2 million grant from MacKenzie Scott, who if you don’t know who that is, she is the ex wife of Jeff Bezos, the owner of Amazon. That $2 million really allows us to kind of take some of the future plans that we had at Habitat and accelerate them. So at the same time, we were getting a donation, we were working with our volunteer staff and board to put together a five year strategic plan, kind of outline where we’d like to see ourselves in the upcoming years, what kind of programs would we like to grow or add to our arsenal of affordable housing solutions. And so this beautiful donation from MacKenzie Scott just allows us to take what we strategically want to do, and start implementing some of those changes in the community. So you know, we want to expand our reclaim program, we want to expand how and how often we do critical home repair in the community. And then we want to take a look at job skill development programs, as well as expanding some of the sustainability operations that we do here.

Brent Hanifl 09:33
You know, everything you said, you know, just kind of revolves around community. I know you recently participated in the Forward La Crosse campaign, which is basically encouraging the community members to get engaged with planning for the city’s future. Why do you think it’s important for community members to participate in the planning process?

Kahya Fox 09:52
I think it’s vital. When we take a look at what we do here at Habitat for Humanity. We always go back into our community to ask what those needs are, you know, because even though we’ve worked in affordable housing for 30 years, the needs of our community change over time. And to be able to come together as community members and really get to the heart of, you know, what are the issues. And then also, you know, the folks who are living these experiences are also the best ones to offer the most reasonable solutions to those issues. You know, we all have things in our heads that we can think of that would make our communities better. And when we come together and work cooperatively, that’s where those wonderful, beautiful long term solutions can come. And when we work together, we can implement those to be successful.

Brent Hanifl 10:39
Awesome. So if people want to find out more, maybe you know, donate or volunteer, what’s the best avenue for them to go to?

Kahya Fox 10:46
Absolutely. So there’s a couple of ways you can get a hold of us, you can go to our website at habitatlacrosse@org or you can email us at info@habitatlacrosse.org. And we’d be happy to answer any questions you have or if you’re interested in volunteering we’d love to have you join us.

Amy Gabay 11:08
La Crosse Local Podcast is a production of River Travel Media. Do you have an interview idea you’d like to share with us? Message us on Facebook at La Crosse local. Find out more about us at lacrosselocal.com and you can subscribe to the La Crosse Local Podcast on your favorite podcast app. If you like us, rate us five stars. We appreciate it.

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