Sussex Habitat for Humanity Women Build a passion for some

Kay Herrman works as a volunteer builder at a Board Builder Day event at Georgetown Point. BY DENY HOWETH PHOTOS
August 12, 2013

The term Habitat for Humanity has been around long enough in the United States and abroad to give many people an idea of what it means to give needy people a hand up in housing. But, there’s more to tell.

In recent years, Sussex County Habitat for Humanity has formed Women Build, an adaptation of an international program in which women do the house construction and other work. “We’ve completed three Women Build homes,” said Kay Herrman, a Realtor and active Habitat volunteer who wears many hats and serves on its board of directors.

Herrman works closely with Rebecca  Pedersen, a 25-year-old Habitat worker who has, in over a year, worked on many houses and is currently working on the fourth Women Build home along with other women and men. She is part of a federally funded AmeriCorps program in which workers give a year or more of their lives to causes like Habitat. There are currently 10 AmeriCorps women and seven men working with volunteers. College students sometimes also give their spring break time to Habitat.

Pedersen works with the Habitat construction manager and now, after a year of working outdoors on as many as nine houses at a time, she is mostly working in the office, scheduling construction and ordering services such as electricity, drywall and plumbing.

“My passion now is for housing and building,” Pedersen  said. “I  know how to build a single-family home.” After this year, she will seek more education and employment, possibly in engineering or real estate.

“We are now looking for local women to become part of the leadership team for our fourth Women Build project,” Herrman said. “Volunteers who want to do fundraising, construction work or office work are needed.”

Herrman and her husband, Neil, came to the beach from Wilmington in 1999 and built a home in Dagsboro.

“We had both been working for a telephone company which became Verizon,” said Kay Herrman. “I took a package deal to leave. I was left, at 44, with nothing to do. I did some consulting work with SW Bell, but the travel got old. I got a local real estate license and found I liked the work.”

Now, two days a week, Herrman works as a receptionist for attorney Bonnie  Benson, who has a real estate transactions and estate planning firm in Lewes. “I get to see what happens when you get a contract, submit it to an attorney and complete the deal,” Herrman said.

How did Herrman’s involvement with the Sussex County Habitat group begin?  In 2006, the Herrmans attended a party at the home of a friend, Ted Fischer, in Millsboro. He asked her to serve on his volunteer Habitat fundraising committee. “I thought it would be neat to hammer nails, but he convinced me that there was a need for grant writing,” she said. “I had never done that, but I was willing to try.”

At that time, in 2006, there were only two hired Sussex Habitat employees: Kevin Gilmore, who was hired to become executive director, and an office manager. A resource development manager was hired and later left the staff. Herrman signed up to do the job, but as a volunteer, so a badly needed finance manager, Marty Whitehair, could be hired.  There are now eight full-time and three part-time employees.

Herrman is now also chair of the local Habitat property acquisitions committee and said, “Sometimes, banks have foreclosures on homes and can’t sell them. They donate the property to Habitat.”  Those donations help the banks with their federal Community Reinvestment Act requirements.

Habitat placed nine families in new housing last year and helped low-income families renovate their homes for a total of 35 families assisted. The organization hopes to do as well this  fiscal year. “Our biggest problem is finding the land or property to build on,” said Herrman. “It has to be donated, since land is so expensive here.”

Now, when people want to donate land or property of some kind, Gilmore asks Herrman to look the site over.

Herrman enjoys working outside with her hands for Habitat, but she has other responsibilities, too. She is now chair of the Sussex County Habitat for Humanity fundraising committee, which is where she was when she started as a Habitat volunteer in 2006.

Herrman says volunteers are also needed to help with the work of the family services committee. “These volunteers go out to see the candidates for home ownership and decide which ones should be presented to the board of directors. The committee gives counseling help, such as budgeting, as needed. There’s a waiting list of families for homes at any given time,” she said.

“Our volunteers see it as a real perk of the job to observe when a family’s new home is dedicated,” said Herrman. “A lot of work is behind each one of those occasions.”

Herrman doesn’t always keep track of her volunteer hours, but in an average week, she may work as many as 10 hours or more out of her home, writing grant applications and doing other work as well in the offices, and on the road looking over  land and housing properties. “And, occasionally, I get to pound nails on a house,” she said.

“My husband says that if I put as much time in real estate as I spend on Habitat, we’d be rich,” Herrman said with a laugh.

For more information, or to volunteer for Women Build or other SCHFH work, call 302-855-1153 or go to