Bill Lifsey, Denver resident and dedicated worker for Lincoln Countyâ€™s Habitat for Humanity affiliate as well as for Habitat International, announced the local organizationâ€™s goals for the new year in an interview last week with the Times-News.
He also talked about the many travels and projects heâ€™s completed since beginning charity work for the nonprofit organization more than a decade ago.
At age 60, Lifsey began work with Lincoln County Habitat in the summer of 1998, following retirement from his 30-year career as a commercial airline pilot.
â€œI said to myself, â€˜Ok, you are 17 all over again. What are you going to do with the rest of your life?â€™â€ he said.
He was determined to do something for which he had both talent and passion and said â€œbuilding houses fit the bill.â€
â€œAs a boy, I had done all the construction trades with my dad,â€ he said, â€œand I loved the work.â€
A year after volunteering with Lincoln County Habitat for Humanity, Lifsey was diagnosed with a brain tumor, during which time he vowed to God to only do good things for the rest of his life.
â€œI live by the two great commandments â€” to love the Lord and love your neighbor,â€ he said. In 2000, he expanded his volunteer efforts to include other countries, traveling to Portugal with Habitat for Humanity International.
He said he knows that he wouldnâ€™t be alive and healthy and here today if it werenâ€™t for the many opportunities heâ€™s been given. As a result, he hopes to offer others those same opportunities through Habitat. He particularly praised the organization for its â€œconcept of giving families a hand up instead of a hand out.â€
The Lincoln County affiliate is set to increase its number of builds this year, Lifsey said. In previous years, volunteers and workers constructed only one house every year or every other year. In 2012, the group plans to renovate two homes and build three more, using only American-made
materials for one project and veterans as volunteers for a second home that will be built for a local veteran. Lifsey said they might even combine the two goals into one project.
Several months ago, Lifsey became head of the Construction Committee for Lincoln County Habitat for Humanityâ€™s Board of Directors.
â€œThe Committee is responsible for starting and completing every job,â€ he said. Lifsey often purchases the lots on which the houses are built and additionally participates in test builds prior to a project in order to determine what problems volunteers may encounter during the construction process.
Lifsey has also gained much experience from his work with Habitat International last fall, helping to build homes for earthquake victims in Haiti through funding from the International Development Aid Bank.
During his two months in Haiti, he aided in a majority of the pre-work, which has to be done prior to the arrival of construction volunteers, he said. The volunteer initiative was part of the annual Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter Work Project (JRCWP), Lifsey said, and required that he draw-up design plans for all the houses and streets and hire contractors for putting in foundations and floors.
â€œWithin five days, we went from a piece of ground to a site with 155 foundations for volunteers to go to work and build houses on,â€ he said.
The JRCWP has taken place for nearly 30 years since former President Jimmy Carter and his wife began volunteering with different Habitat projects bearing their name. They first volunteered for Habitat in New York City in 1984 and ever since, have devoted one week a year to a different project around the globe.
While other groups in addition to Habitat completed homes in the Haitian town, Habitat International was responsible for the construction of 105 houses, and work in the country will continue into the new year, Lifsey said.
Through his work with the international affiliate, heâ€™s traveled to various countries including Thailand, El Salvador, Mexico and Belize. He said thereâ€™s much more difficulty, specifically language barriers, that often plague overseas volunteer work versus work inside the United States.
â€œConsider trying to build something as large as a house with the help of 20 to 40 helpers, and you are the only one who speaks English,â€ he said. Lifsey noted a particular experience he had in India in 2006 in which he was a House Leader over 27 volunteers who spoke five different languages.
He added that thereâ€™s also the problem of using never-before-seen building materials and getting used to another countryâ€™s customs. â€œSometimes we must learn from local people how to install certain fixtures or materials we are given to work with,â€ Lifsey said.
In addition, he tells the story of when he had to install certain fixtures in an Indian home, each time keeping with local custom and having to step over the threshold with his right foot first.
While in Haiti, he said he was bothered by some of the receiving familiesâ€™ unwillingness to help work crews build their homes. â€œThat troubled me,â€ Lifsey said.
Despite the difficulties that he and other Habitat volunteers encounter while working on overseas projects, he canâ€™t ignore the extreme gratitude locals have expressed upon seeing their new homes.
â€œIâ€™ve had a Korean man shake my hand â€¦ and keep his head bowed so that I would not see his tears,â€ Lifsey said. â€œWhen you start to see how much the partner families appreciate what you have done, then you start to realize that you really are doing good, just as I promised that I would.â€
While Lifsey was recently asked to take an up to six-month role in Japan with Habitat for Humanity Internationalâ€™s Disaster Corps team, he turned down the offer in order to devote more time to his Lincoln County duties, he said.