SEBRING — Wednesday morning started for Habitat for Humanity with a $20,000 check presentation from State Farm Insurance.

It continued through noon with volunteer work on Sebring-area Habitat homes by volunteers from State Farm, AmeriCorps and Care-A-Vanners. Habitat Construction Manager Frank Nelson said the organization has five houses under construction at Mason’s Ridge and is preparing to break ground on another home in Highlands County.

Habitat has undertaken a program to help Highlands County recover from Hurricane Irma, and the State Farm donation is designed to help with that effort.

The disaster recovery home repair program operates alongside the traditional home ownership program and involves partnerships with more than 30 families affected by Irma to rebuild or build new safe and secure homes.

José Soto, public affairs specialist with State Farm Florida Operations Center in Winter Haven, stopped from volunteering along with four other employees at Mason’s Ridge, to talk about the donation.

He said part of his job involves grants and community involvement for the company.

The company opened up funding right after Irma, said Soto, and encouraged Habitat chapters to apply for grants. Wednesday’s check was one such grant.

Right now, Soto said, State Farm is supporting 14 Habitat chapters’ efforts, not just through monetary donations, but also through volunteer hours.

For every employee who volunteers 40 or more hours, State Farm will donate $500 to that organization, Soto said. If employees donate money, State Farm will match each dollar up to $1,500, he said.

Soto said State Farm works with several disaster response and recovery organizations, approximately 60 different partnerships.

With the State Farm volunteers was an AmeriCorps’ National Civilian Community Corps volunteer team currently on a tour of service, and two members of Care-A-Vanners, or retirees who travel by recreational vehicle and volunteer along the way with Habitat projects.

Among the State Farm people still there after 11 a.m. were Lori Kennedy, who has an office in Sebring, and Brian Marston, who works with corporate-government relations for State Farm.

They were busy scraping and sweeping the concrete floor of one house, preparing it for flooring.

AmeriCorps team leader Mike Kunath of Raleigh, North Carolina, was putting in braces at the top of a knee wall in another house, to offer extra support to the roof of one house. He said they had just finished helping clean up damage from Hurricane Florence in South Carolina.

After finishing this job next week, his team of 10 volunteers will go back to their base at Vicksburg, Mississippi, for a debrief and their next assignment.

Among the team members on the roof were Thea Cydek of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin; Bryce Sullivan of Farmington, Connecticut, and Vassily Wood of Hagerstown, Maryland.

Wood and Care-A-Vanner Sue Okerson of Denver, Colorado, were nailing down shingles. She held while he hammered.

Inside the house, Care-A-Vanner John Burnette was talking with Nelson about where to set the pantry cabinet for the kitchen.

Nelson said Habitat homes, whether built with traditional frames or with structural insulated panel systems (SIPS), have fared well in hurricanes. None of the ones built in Sebring had any structural damage from Irma, he said: Just cosmetic damage, such as detached vinyl siding.


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