Sixthman on Site

Twelve years ago, the Sixthman cruise Rock Boat was scheduled to sail out of New Orleans, but because of Hurricane Katrina, the cruise was moved to Galveston. Because of this, a couple from Montgomery County, Texas, discovered the cruise and signed up. Like many people on these cruises, they made friendships with other people on the trip that get renewed every year. The cruise is a five-day trip that features 30 bands, spear-headed by Sister Hazel. On each cruise, the company coordinates days for giving back with their community members. Because of their ties to New Orleans, the Rock Boat community members felt it was important to spend a day building with NOAHH.

“All of our event are built around people who are passionate about the same thing,” said Lauraine Frank, a Warrior for Sixthman. “We’ve noticed a lot of our communities like the opportunity to work together. They really only get to see each other once a year, so they like to work together on something like this. They like to do good in the communities that we leave from and the communities we visit. It depends on the different communities and what they are passionate about. For the Rock Boat, the last year they were gonna sail out of New Orleans was the year Katrina hit, so the next year we were able to sail out we did a project similar to this to rebuild. It was super important for this community when we were coming back to New Orleans for this trip to do a Habitat project.”

“These people have been sailing together for about years, said Jenn Wedick, another Sixthman employee. “They all know each other. They all love each other. And I think they’ll be able to handle this plus the party.”

Both Sixthman staff and the Rock Boat community members are passionate about giving back.

“I first got involved in nonprofit work because I am a cancer survivor, so I started working for a big cancer and leukemia nonprofit right out of college,” said Lauraine. “I was working in events for those nonprofits, and that’s what led me to Sixthman, also working in events with music, which is one of my favorite things.”

“We started with church,” said Ron Brandt, one of the Rock Boat community members. “We did a build. We did a small walls build first, and then we ended being recruited to do what we were good at, which is not any kind of construction. We made food for the job site for people that were working, but we did work on site, too. Then Cyndi ended up joining the board, served two terms.”

Cyndi Brandt (Ron’s wife and another long-term Rock Boat community member) said, “It’s something we love. We love Habitat. We’re very passionate about it.”

The Brandts both joined Habitat at their local Montgomery County, TX, affiliate.

“There was a woman named Lou who was a bus driver, and she had two grandchildren she was raising,” Ron said. “They were twins. She was the first person on the job site every Saturday. She was the last person to leave. She worked hard every day, and she was an inspiration to everybody that worked on that house. For me, that’s what cemented my idea that I always wanted to work with Habitat.”

“I had been giving to Habitat for Humanity International,” Cyndi said. “I did not understand how it worked until I got involved with our affiliate, because I always thought you gave to Habitat International, and it’d filter down to the local communities. That’s not the way it is. When I found out that it wasn’t that way, I got more involved with the local affiliate. My first house build and then being on the board, I got to see all the working parts. We’re a mortgage company, we’re a land developer, we’re credit counselors, we’re mortgage lenders. We do everything. It’s a lot to learn.”

Ron and Cyndi went from volunteering on homes to being on the board of the Montgomery County affiliate. Their main focus is on working with partner families.

“Mostly what we do is the family selection committee,” Ron said. “We’ve been doing that for seven years or so. It’s getting the word out in the community in need. It’s running informational meetings, so the people can learn about what the responsibilities of homeownership with Habitat are. And then we also do the ‘fast track’ in our Habitat affiliate.”

The “fast track” means helping applicants to their homeownership program through the application process and guiding them through understanding their credit report.

“We walk them through the application process,” said Cyndi. “We pull their credit bureau. Credit counseling is involved. Some might not get in the first time, but they come back. They might come back two or three times.”

“When they leave,” said Ron, “we try to at least have a very constructive path for them, so if people come in and talk to us and think they have horrible credit, then the first step is asking, ‘What does that really mean?’ And then constructively taking it on with some guidance. The beautiful thing is when we get someone who comes back a year later who says, ‘Hey, I’ve done it!” and now they’re a homeowner.”

“They’ve not only gotten into a home,” said Cyndi, “they improved their credit score so their insurance rates are better and their car loan rate is better. Everything’s better.”

Through their work with Habitat, Ron and Cyndi have learned that many don’t understand everything about Habitat’s homeownership program.

“An important thing that most people that I know, they think they know Habitat, but the big component they don’t understand is we don’t give away houses,” said Ron. “We help people get over a hurdle that would be insurmountable without Habitat. But they put the sweat equity in, and so they got skin in the game and they repay the mortgage. When we do our family selection at community meetings, we always tell people we count on you to repay your mortgage because that’s how we build houses for somebody else years from now. When I first went to a Habitat site and saw all these people working together that were going to live in the neighborhood together, all I could think of was about those barn raisings back in early colonial days. It was such a great thing to see people who were gonna be neighbors become fast friends on the job site. I like to say to friends of mine, you don’t know it, but in your day to day life, you come into contact with a lot of people who are partner families. It’s people who work at the schools, people who work at the hospitals…”

“Hard working people who never have enough money for a down payment,” clarified Cyndi.

“And just never caught a break, so it’s a great opportunity and they got skin in the game. So it’s a beautiful thing. It’s why they call them partner families,” finished Ron.

For those new to the Habitat site, the day’s work was a chance to learn new things.

“It’s not anything like I’ve ever done before, and I have all of the chalk on my hands to prove it,” said Jenn, joking about working putting down chalk lines on lumber. “It’s cool to see actual walls going up. That was cool for me, just watching a wall of a house be built by our community. My first impression was that we’re in three stages. We have people up on roofs, building walls. It’s overwhelming, in a good way.”

“We have three groups of people doing all kinds of different building on all of these houses,” said Lauraine. “They’re excited to be here. This is the second time they’ve done a build with a nonprofit.”