Lending a Hand, Near and Far

Jene Cates may be a new face on the build site here in Portland, but her experience with Habitat for Humanity spans years, states and even countries. It was nearly 15 years ago that she first picked up a hammer with Habitat’s Women Build program in Anaheim, California, and spent a year as a family liaison. Meeting with the family monthly helped ensure a smooth process for future homebuyers and instilled in Jene a firm belief in the benefits of Habitat’s sweat equity model. This model requires partner families to complete 300 hours of volunteering with Habitat before purchasing their home, part of which is spent building their home and the homes of their neighbors. After working side-by-side with this family each Saturday, Jene had the satisfaction of witnessing the big move into their new home.

“When the family moved in, their appreciation was enhanced by the fact that they could look at every corner and know they helped create that space.”

Habitat works to provide housing in approximately 70 countries all around the globe. Just ask Jene, who has volunteered on two Global Village trips, traveling to Kyrgyzstan and India. By hosting a private fundraiser, Jene raised the funds to sponsor the construction of a home in Kyrgyzstan. In this mountainous country in Central Asia, nearly 70 percent of the population either lives in substandard homes or is homeless. Not one to stand on the sidelines while someone else has all the fun, Jene joined her team in Kyrgyzstan to help with construction. She remembers being taught how to stomp mud outdoors, working it until the right consistency was achieved so that it could then be slathered on walls. After the walls were smoothed, they moved on to the next task and allowed the mud to harden, faces splattered in polka dots of brown. Her son joined her for the Global Village trip to India, where they spent a good amount of their days carrying cinder blocks, balancing the heavy blocks on top of their heads with a bit of straw as cushion.

“If someone wants to get involved with Habitat, they can rest assured they are getting involved with a well-run, reputable organization.”

Jene has lived in all four corners of the United States, ending up in Portland by way of Atlanta, Boston, and southern California. Before moving to the Pacific Northwest, she was the founder and executive director of a nonprofit that provided funding for education to impoverished children in Kenya. This past summer, Jene wrote a series of articles for the Seattle organization The Borgen Project, a nonprofit that works to alleviate world poverty, and even started her own fundraiser for them. An adventurer at heart, Jene dreams of biking from Paris to Albania (for those curious, that’s over 2,000 miles). Until then, she is happy taking care of her young-at-heart 18-year-old Australian Shepherd and sharing laughs with the crew of regular volunteers at Habitat’s Helensview build site.

“I love volunteering with Habitat because I love the people I meet. A warm, supportive culture permeates the organization.”

Click here to learn more about volunteer opportunities at Habitat for Humanity Portland/Metro East.

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