‘Providing a Hand Up, Not a Handout’
by William Woody
05.09.13 - 07:37 am

Denver Couple in Montrose for Three Weeks to Build Affordable Homes

MONTROSE – For Gerald and Linda Zschoche the need to help people with a hand up rather than a hand out has been lifestyle derived from their combined 46 years of social work. The retired Denver couple have enjoyed the selfless reward over the past seven years of traveling from community to community to help build new homes for families in need through Habitat for Humanity.

Now, it's Montrose's turn.

The Zschoche's have been in Montrose for about two weeks and have about a week left to compete foundations and sub-flooring on a pair of homes for Habitat for Humanity located at 111 and 112 Bluegrass Court, in a new subdivision on Montrose's west side.

They have been married since 1988, but it took the previous ten years before that to decide if the commitment was best. They enjoy joking about this particular fact.

Gerald, 76, and Linda, 72, now spend their time driving their RV all over the Southwest volunteering for weeks at a time for people they often don’t get to know.

"Its a good deal, some of these people would never be able to own a house if it wasn't for Habitat," Gerald said. "And I don't mind putting in some labor to help them do that."

For 34 years, Linda called social work her passion, including serving as director of Child Welfare Services in Jefferson County. Gerald, who worked for the Colorado Department of Social Services for 12 years, said the couple had no previous experience in home construction before walking onto their first site in Las Cruces, N.M.

They credit a "very patient" building supervisor for helping them learn the techniques needed to complete a Habitat project.

"He taught me how to hammer," Linda said with a laugh. "You may think that's an easy thing to do, but it's not."

While Linda was a licensed social worker she was part of a women's group for Habitat where she learn and worked as an electrician.

"A licensed social worker and licensed electrical assistant, now how's that for a paradox," Gerald said grinning.

Over the years their construction knowledge has grown, and while painting is not their most desired thing to do, framing, drywall, concrete and roof trusses have become their areas of expertise.

"We didn't know squat about that, but now we can set trusses on two story houses," Gerald said with confidence.

After working for the state's Department of Social Services, Gerald worked as a professional photographer and opened his own studio. He sold the studio when he saw new digital technology was changing the professional market. He nearly died of lymphoma, and at one time was placed in Hospice care before making a considerable recovery.

"Still going strong," he said buckling his tool-belt to his waist, "but concrete work is just too hard on your knees.”

Linda, a native of Illinois, said she agreed with the unofficial slogan of Habitat for Humanity: "service of providing a hand up, not a hand out."

"I agree with that because the families have to put in sweat equity, they still have to pay for the house, the materials,” Linda said. “They don't have to pay anything for the labor, that's all volunteer so that reduces the cost of the house considerably, but it's an interest free loan and they still have to pay for what they get.”

Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Colleen Burke said about once a year volunteers will come for weeks a time to get a project started.

"It's amazing. And it is such a neat resource to unitize from folks that are passionate about affordable housing. To be able to come and vacation in Montrose and still give back to the communities they visit is really special," Burke said.

Burke said each year Habitat breaks ground in the spring, to allow time to complete the homes and have the families moved in by Christmas.

"Because we use so many volunteers it takes us a really long time to get these done. If a contractor came in it would take them a couple of months, it takes us a lot longer," Burke said adding Gerald and Linda are camping at the VOA camp ground where Habitat was able to get the couple a discount.

In their seven years of traveling throughout New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado, Gerald and Linda estimate they have worked on about 50 Habitat homes.

"It similar like planting a tree, you work now and it will come to fruition for someone else later on," Gerald said. "We frequently meet the owners of the houses that we're working on, and that's pretty cool.”

The couple said they will not be able to attend each of the dedications later this year as they have committed to another project.

Recently, Montrose Forest Products announced it was donating building materials for both homes on Bluegrass Court. Burke said all of the stud material including the two-by-fours and two-by-sixes were being donated with great appreciation.

Depending on fundraising efforts, Burke said one more ground breaking would be possible this year. Construction supervisor Bill Bond said the 111 and 112 Bluegrass Court homes, numbers 43 and 44 for Habitat for Humanity in Montrose, are roughly 1,200 square feet.

Companies and civic groups wanting to set up a build day can contact Bond at 970/901-9576. To volunteer, contact Habitat at restore@habitatmontrose.org or call 970/252-9304.To learn more about Habitat for Humanity in Montrose, email Burke at colleen@habitatmontrose.org, or call 970/252-9303. For information can be found online at habitatmontrose.org/




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