Habitat Calaveras lauded with Nonprofit of Year honor

Scott Behiel, executive director for Habitat for Humanity Calaveras, stands on a donated plot of land that is the site for possibly 80 to 100 new homes in the coming years.

Habitat for Humanity Calaveras is helping with a lack of housing in the county, and it’s getting noticed for its efforts, which are about to get even bigger.

In May, the organization was selected as a 2019 California Nonprofit of the Year by Frank Bigelow, assemblyman for the state’s 5th District.

“I got a call at home from Frank Bigelow. He said, ‘I just wanted you to know I’ve chosen you as my Nonprofit of the Year. I got to pick one, and we love what you’re doing,’” said Scott Behiel, executive director for Habitat for Humanity Calaveras. “(Board President Todd Peterson and I) went to Sacramento on June 5, and had (Bigelow’s) ear for an hour and a half. It’s nice to see traction at the state level.”

Since its inception in 1996, Habitat for Humanity Calaveras has built 16 homes and has repaired hundreds of homes in the county. Though the organization as a whole was founded on Christian principles, the homes that are built or repaired aren’t done so free of charge. New homeowners must pay half the costs – with the other half coming from state grants and donations – and put in 400 to 500 hours of “sweat equity,” the term used to describe the work owners must put into the construction of the home. Qualifying families can make up to $70,000 per year for one household.

Behiel said donations and awareness have increased over the past year, with the community and businesses supporting the organization in one form or another.

“Habitat for Humanity Calaveras’ Executive Director Scott Behiel, and Board President Todd Peterson, have been incredibly generous by providing an invaluable asset to the people who call Calaveras County home,” Bigelow said in a statement. “Habitat for Humanity Calaveras is a real example of a community coming together, caring about one another, and selflessly improving the lives of those around them.”

Behiel said that the efforts of the organization, to date, have mainly benefitted families along the Highway 26 corridor, with very little along Highway 4.

“If we had a map of the county we were putting pins in where we’ve had an impact, it would all be along the 26 corridor, and very little impact along Highway 4. There’s a big opportunity there to change that,” Behiel said. “We get a lot of donations from the Highway 4 corridor, like furniture and appliances and that kind of stuff.”

Habitat for Humanity was placing efforts into building one house about every other year, but recently decided to put those efforts on hold in favor of a larger project, one that could impact around 100 families.

On the north side of Angels Camp, just off Highway 49 on Copello Drive, one generous benefactor has donated 16.92 acres of land worth $1.05 million.

“(The person who donated) has been talking to me for five years about doing something socially responsible with the property,” Behiel said. “So when this job with Habitat came up, I immediately went to him. I said, ‘What do you think about Habitat?’ He said, ‘I love it!’ So, I took the job, knowing I had (this project) in my back pocket.”

The land, a rolling hillside encompassed with large shady trees, could potentially have 80 to 100 new homes under construction by the end of 2020. “We’re really focused on making a huge impact here,” Behiel said.

Although it’s still in the planning stages, the new development could put a large dent in the housing shortage in Calaveras County. Currently, Behiel said all of Habitat’s energy is going to make sure everything goes according to blueprint.

“Right now, we’re putting all our resources toward the reports and studies that are necessary to get shovel-ready,” Behiel said. “We need to do traffic reports and environmental reports … a whole bunch of stuff. By the end of this month, I’ll have a list from the city of everything that’s going to be required.”

A best-case scenario would be groundbreaking by December of next year.

“In general, housing that meets the needs of all economic sectors of our population is good, and I hope that any issues specific to this project can be worked out with (Angels Camp),” said Peter Maurer, the planning director for Calaveras County. “As with any development project, we are interested in how the impact on services in the county will be addressed, particularly roads and recreational facilities.”

Behiel said the city will need to improve sewer services to accommodate for the development, and there’s also a proposed Foundry Lane bypass that could provide a second access point for the new homes.

Not only does Habitat build homes, it also helps make repairs on 20 to 30 homes a year, making sure that families stay safe in their own domiciles. Just like new homeowners, those receiving repairs need to put in a certain amount of volunteer hours, whether in the repairs or volunteering at the organization’s ReStore in San Andreas.

The ReStore, which sells donated furniture or various home-improvement items, raises money for the administrative costs for Habitat for Humanity Calaveras. Behiel said it’s the organization’s goal to use all donated funds for home repairs or new builds.

Though they have enough operating capital, Behiel said fundraising continues. Donations can be made or volunteering can be done by contacting Habitat for Humanity Calaveras through its website at habitatcalaveras.org or the soon-to-be opened administrative location on Highway 49 in Angels Camp.

“It’s a fascinating job,” Behiel said. “It’s the hardest job I’ve ever had.”

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When I'm not immersed in the news, I am usually found running with my wife or working out. I've had a passion for the news, especially the comics, since I was 9 years old. I've worked in almost every facet of the news arena.

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