FARMINGTON — Frank Hayes was initially hesitant to help the family, which was living in a recreational vehicle that needed steps. Hayes, a board member for Tres Rios Habitat for Humanity in Farmington, received an email about the family from the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department. Hayes knew the family would not be able to pay back the local Habitat affiliate for the project. And, he said, it isn't the norm for the organization to complete projects for families who cannot, over time, pay them back. Generally, the organization asks families to work on projects alongside volunteers. With Habitat houses, families pay back interest-free loans on the homes.
But then Hayes learned the father-of-three living in the RV had a back injury that prevented him from working or building the stairs himself, and CYFD officials were worried the lack of proper stairs could injure a child.
So Hayes enlisted the help of the chapter's Brush With Kindness program. The Habitat program provides up to $3,000 of work on low-income families' homes. Families generally pay for the cost of the materials, but the Habitat chapter subsidizes the labor.
"You're able to get a lot more for the $3,000 than you would if you hired someone," Hayes said.
The stairs project marked the local chapter's first Brush With Kindness project.
The family's RV had three stacked cinder blocks outside that its inhabitants used to climb in and out of the trailer.
Hayes decided that even if Habitat paid for the cost of the materials, the price tag for the stairs was minimal. And, he reasoned, it would make a huge difference for the family.
"You worry about the safety of the kids," Hayes said.
He said he was also concerned the father might fall and re-injure his back.
"There was no way that someone could get up and down without teetering," Hayes said.
Hayes approached Lowe's Home Improvement and asked the business to partner with Tres Rios Habitat for Humanity to build the stairs. The next day, Lowe's donated the supplies needed.
Bill Brandon, a Habitat member, built the stairs and delivered them to the RV.
"When Bill put that up, they were just thrilled because they (the stairs) were stable," Hayes said.
While the stairs were Tres Rios Habitat for Humanity's first Brush With Kindness project, the organization hopes to do more in the future.
On Thursday, the chapter will host an open house for its new Habitat Store, located off of Arrington Street behind the western Safeway in Farmington. The organization hopes profits from the store will help cover the costs of other Brush with Kindness projects.
"It provides a source of funding that you can count on," Hayes said.
Farmington native Daniel Evans was hired earlier this month as the store's manager.
"I was looking for a job that would involve the county and my hometown," Evans said. "It worked out perfect."
The store sells donated home improvement items at reduced prices.
"I think what we can offer will really spark people's interests," Evans said.
Currently, there are paintbrushes, cleaning supplies, light bulbs and tool kits on the shelves, as well as a variety of other supplies, available for sale.
Evans said he hopes the Habitat Store will be a "stop along the way" for people looking for home improvement supplies.
"I think the biggest challenge is to locate potential donations," he said.
QUALIFYING FOR ASSISTANCE
To qualify as low-income, a family must make less than 60 percent of the median family income in the area. For families in San Juan County, that generally means between $32,000 and $35,000 a year. The family size is also taken into account.
· Apply for a home or a Brush with Kindness project by calling 505-326-5379 and leaving a message on the answering machine.
· Volunteer to help by calling 505-592-7761.