Dozens of volunteers flocked to Cliff Dunham’s home for a ‘house party,’ tackling repairs he had planned to do for years, but was unable to complete. Throughout the day’s flurry of activity, the retired U.S. Marine said he was amazed as the crowd kept getting bigger.
By day’s end, the Dunhams’ house in Columbus, Georgia, had been transformed. Volunteers repainted the interior of the home, installed laundry room doors, had the carpet cleaned, and more. Outside, they turned their attention to landscaping, planting colorful flowers to accent the home’s modest exterior.
“I felt like we had hit the lottery,” said Dunham, 66, who suffers permanent injuries from his many deployments, including to Vietnam and Iraq. “I was flabbergasted and dumbfounded. I couldn’t believe these folks would do all of this for us.”
20 years of improving homes
Dunham and his wife, Joseph Ann, are among the most recent homeowners to benefit from the Wells Fargo Housing Foundation’s Team Member Volunteer Program. Now in its 20th year, the program has mobilized a cumulative total of 175,000 volunteers to help build or improve more than 7,100 homes across the U.S. The housing foundation has contributed more than $190 million to support this volunteer work and nonprofits such as Habitat for Humanity, Rebuilding Together, National Center for Healthy Housing, and House of Heroes, Inc. — the organization that led the Dunhams’ repairs project.
“To see how the engagement of the Team Member Volunteer Program has continued to grow over the years is a testament to the care and commitment of the hundreds of team members who are volunteering to improve homes and neighborhoods on daily basis across the country,” said Christine Niska, program manager with the housing foundation.
For a company that emphasizes volunteerism — 82,000 team members donated their time in 2016 alone — the housing volunteer program has carved out a unique niche, said Martin Sundquist, executive director of the housing foundation. The program began in 1997 to support local community efforts such as its first build, a Habitat for Humanity home in Des Moines, Iowa, headquarters of Wells Fargo’s Home Lending business.
“We have since seen the effort evolve to building and improving homes in all 50 states,” Sundquist said. “Our team members are the catalyst to this selfless effort, and the Team Member Volunteer Program’s impact is a powerful example of the care we have to build better communities every day.”
In Columbus, the company’s housing volunteers are the go-to group for any home improvement project, no matter how challenging, said Susan Wood, executive director of the Chattahoochee Valley Chapter of House of Heroes, a nonprofit that supports veterans and is partly funded by Wells Fargo. From roofing and plumbing to electrical work, the team members often have the needed expertise, she said, and if they don’t know how to do something, they know someone who does.
“What Wells Fargo has done for the Columbus community — especially for our veterans — far outweighs any other organization,” said Wood. “They do so much above and beyond with the funding and volunteerism turnout. There’s never a project these volunteers start that isn’t completed. They always get the job done.”
A ‘super volunteer’ with a big heart
Kristi Dodelin, an administrative assistant for Wells Fargo and key organizer of the housing volunteers in Columbus, said there have been many memorable moments through the years. She said Cliff Dunham, for example, was an unforgettable character — a friendly, funny, outgoing person who exuded warmth, humor, and gratitude. “He kept us all laughing all day,” Dodelin said, recalling the big turnout in April at the Dunham home.
Then there was the elderly woman whose husband — a 30-year veteran of the Korean War and Vietnam War — had been killed in an armed robbery of their dry cleaning business in Columbus. The widow lived alone, kept up the house as best she could, and mowed her church’s lawn every week, without fail, Dodelin said.
“I’ll never forget her resolve,” she said. “She was so strong. She’d tell us stories about her husband, how much she loved him, that would have us wiping our eyes. You feel so glad to give back to someone like that. We gave her a new mower, and she was so thankful. You would have thought it was a new car.”
Dodelin is known as a ‘super volunteer’ in Columbus for her participation in walk-a-thons, marathons, and other events for organizations including March of Dimes, American Cancer Society, and local food banks. But her work with House of Heroes has a special place in her heart, she said.
“Volunteering is so organic to me, and I work with some great organizations,” she said. “But House of Heroes is all about helping folks who served our country and put their life on the line for us. That draws me in every time.”
Wood said she values the efforts of Dodelin and others like her in the Columbus area.
“This community would not be the same without the Wells Fargo volunteers,” she said. “The way they are committed to giving back, and the hearts they have when they come to these events. It really shows — every year and in every project.”