Although it won't open for business in Sonora for some months, Lowe's is already proving itself a good neighbor and a generous member of our community.
Generous, in fact, may be an understatement.
The national home improvement store chain this month awarded Tuolumne
County's Habitat for Humanity branch a grant of $400,000. The cash has
paid off a loan on 4.5 acres in Columbia, proposed for a 36-unit
affordable home development.
For Habitat, this is a giant step toward realizing a dream that began to take shape last year.
"Now every dollar we raise is going directly toward building
affordable homes for Tuolumne County families," said Betsy Harden,
Habitat's local director.
The Columbia acreage, which Habitat bought in a 2009 foreclosure
sale, is an already-approved subdivision complete with water, sewer,
power and the Tuolumne County go-ahead for construction of 36
townhomes. A $399,000 zero-interest loan from Habitat International,
the local organization's parent, made the purchase possible.
But until the one-year bridge loan was paid off, actual building remained tantalizingly out of reach.
Thanks to Lowe's, that has all changed. With clear title to the
property, Habitat has turned its attention toward construction. The
equity it now holds in the Columbia property will enable the chapter to
more easily secure grants and financing for that purpose.
According to Harden, county-required site work is now under way and
the construction of the first duplex unit could begin as early as
September. She added that the family selection process will begin
shortly, and there have been numerous inquires from would-be
"The need for affordable housing is still here," said Harden.
Lowe's, as its longtime relationship with Habitat International
evidences, recognizes this need. Not only that, said Harden, but
company officials are also aware of the community's extensive financial
and volunteer support for Habitat's local efforts.
"It's like Lowe's is not only a partner with Habitat, but with our whole community," she said.
It may be a good fit: In 2009, Lowe's contributed some $30 million
to support community and education projects in the United States. It
also encourages volunteerism through Local Heroes, a company-wide
employee volunteer initiative.
Habitat's Tuolumne County chapter, of course, depends heavily on
volunteers, having a registry of some 500, about 60 active workers and
a volunteer partner in Sonora High School's Middle College program.
The program's students, who attend classes at Columbia College,
have collectively spent hundreds of hours clearing weeds and debris
from Habitat's Columbia site, and were servers at a recent fundraising
If all this sounds familiar, it should. In many ways volunteers are the lifeblood of our Mother Lode communities.
That spirit was celebrated last week at a volunteer appreciation
luncheon at the Sonora Elks Lodge. Hosted by Sierra Nonprofit Services,
the celebration honored Tuolumne County's thousands of volunteers and
gave special awards to a prolific and precocious few.
Recipients included Jerry Rose (Extra Mile Award, for organizing
Groveland's free breakfasts), Center for a Nonviolent Community and
Vietnam Veterans of America (Ed Minium Legacy Award, for responding to
immediate needs with volunteer action), Mounted Dream Center (for
exemplary monitoring of volunteers), Sonora High School junior
Elizabeth "Ludie" Olenchalk (Never Too Young Award, given to a
volunteer age 16 or younger) and Cutler Segerstrom Insurance Agency
(Community Excellence Award, for supporting volunteerism among its
Finally, former Sonora Area Foundation board president Celeste Boyd
was given the Lifetime Achievement Award for a career of service
spanning decades, organizations and causes.
Although Boyd's contributions date back years and Lowe's are brand
new, both are prime examples of a spirit that defines and enriches our