Saturday, May 08, 2021

Person of the Week

Jonathan Good: Building for the Good of Community

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The shoreline’s first build by Middlesex Habitat for Humanity is going well in Westbrook, thanks to volunteers overseen by Construction Site Manager Jonathan Good. 

Photo by Aviva Luria/Harbor News

The shoreline’s first build by Middlesex Habitat for Humanity is going well in Westbrook, thanks to volunteers overseen by Construction Site Manager Jonathan Good. (Photo by Aviva Luria/Harbor News | Buy This Photo)

Habitat for Humanity works from the premise that affordable housing is the foundation on which stable families and communities are built.

Jonathan Good, construction site manager for Middlesex Habitat for Humanity (MHFH), which is building a home in Westbrook, instinctively understands this. He has lived in the same house for his entire life and is building his own family there.

“I grew up in the house I’m living in now” in Wallingford, he explains. “My parents, just a few years ago, ended up buying my grandparents’ house. And I’m in the process of buying my parents’ house from them. So we’re just kind of passing the houses down the line.

“My wife teases me about it, because when she was brought up, she never lived in the same house for more than two or three years at a time,” he says. “[W]e had a very, very different experience growing up.”

He and his wife have a 7-month-old son, Nathaniel.

“He definitely keeps life moving at a very fast pace at home,” Jonathan says. “Right now, my not-at-work hours [revolve] around him and around my wife, coming home to a young family that’s very full of energy.”

Young Builder

Jonathan has loved building things for as long as he can remember. His father, an accountant, helped nurture that interest.

“[H]e was relatively handy,” he says of his dad. “[H]e spent a lot of time trying to help me, when I was really young, figure out what my interests were. So he would do a lot of projects with me and stuff like that.

“When I was maybe 10, he and I built a shed together,” he continues. “And I loved that process.”

A year or two later, Jonathan’s father introduced him to a friend who was a cabinet maker.

“I started going over there on Saturdays,” he recalls. “And that guy basically taught me a lot of my basic tool knowledge, he taught me how to build cabinets. And it just kept going from there.”

He lived at home while earning a business marketing degree from Thomas Edison State University in New Jersey, an online college, and worked over the summer for building contractors.

“Right after I graduated, I worked for about a year full time in construction,” he says. “[C]onstruction, construction management, working with my hands, building things—that’s always really been my passion.”

But then “I kind of figured I should be responsible and try to put that [college] degree to use,” he says.

He got a job in the flooring department at Home Depot, thinking he could eventually work his way into management.

“The retail aspect of [the job] wasn’t necessarily something that I was in love with,” he says. “I really enjoy customer service, and just working with a lot of different people. That’s really the aspect of the retail world that I that I enjoy.”

While at Home Depot, he also worked construction jobs, many of them on his own.

“[O]ne thing that I realized at that point is that I can’t stand working by myself,” he says. “I’m very much of a people person.”

Habitat? What Habitat?

Then, on a busy Saturday at Home Depot, “I was helping a customer with a question and I walked by two ladies in one of the main aisles of the store, didn’t think anything of it, and just said, ‘Hi. How are you?’ as I was walking by.

“It turns out that that was [MHFH] Executive Director [Sarah Bird] and the ReStore manager,” Deborah Kostek, he continues. “And at the time, the [ReStore] didn’t have an assistant manager, and they were out looking.

“Apparently, I was the only person who said, ‘Hi. How are you?’ the whole day that they were out,” he says. “So they gave me an interview.”

But he had no idea what Habitat for Humanity was.

“I had somehow gotten [that] far in life without ever even hearing of Habitat” for Humanity, he recalls.

“It was funny, because when [Deborah] first asked me if I was interested in interviewing for a position...she just said ‘Habitat,’” he says.

“So I’m thinking, ‘Are we talking habitat for buffalo?’” he remembers. “What are we talking about here? I had no idea.”

He went to the website printed on Deborah’s business card and read that Habitat for Humanity is a “nonprofit that does construction work, it’s an ecumenical Christian organization, [and] I am a Christian,” he explains.

“So it fit a lot of different things from my background, and really sounded like...a place that I could enjoy working,” he says.

Working for Habitat

“If you imagine a Goodwill,” Jonathan says of the ReStore, “instead of furniture and knickknacks, the ReStore carries furniture, building materials, tools, doors and windows, that kind of thing.

“The ReStore...in Cromwell is primarily a furniture store,” he continues. “It’s completely donation-based. We have a box truck that goes out into the community and picks up donations. People can drop off donations as well. And then we clean up those donations...especially in the current environment, that applies to everything and pretty thoroughly, and then all of that stuff is sold to the public. And the proceeds go to help fund” MHFH’s work building homes.

Once a job opened up on the construction side of things, Jonathan applied. He began as construction site supervisor in February, starting off with several office space projects for the organization.

“And then the COVID shutdown happened,” he says. “So I was furloughed for a couple of months. And when I came back, that’s when I started down in Westbrook.”

The home at 382 Hammock Road North, the first build on the shoreline for MH4H, is in the last stages of construction. It was set in motion by a $200,000 grant from the Sturges Redfield Foundation to be put toward the building of two houses, both of which must be in Westbrook.

Funding for the land came from the Peach Pit Foundation of Durham.

Jonathan’s first home build for MHFH, the Westbrook home is a modest, ranch-style three-bedroom house of approximately 1,200 square feet.

“We’re currently working on painting the interior,” Jonathan explains. “All the exterior work has been done. All of the mechanicals are in, the electrical is all run, all of that stuff is done.

“The floors...doors, trimwork, cabinets—basically all of the interior, make-it-look-pretty stuff” is finished, he continues.

The seeding of the lawn and landscaping will likely have to wait until spring. The septic tank will be installed by contractors.

“Pretty much anything that involves specialized equipment, or a license, we contract out,” he explains. “So our foundation, the electrical, the plumbing, the sheetrock we hire out because [working on sheetrock] with volunteers can be challenging.

“But all of the framing, the roofing, the siding, doors and windows, painting, trim, flooring, cabinets—all that stuff is all done with volunteer labor,” he continues.

The Beauty of Volunteers

One of the consequences of COVID-19 is the smaller size of volunteer groups, a necessity for protecting the health of those who are donating their time.

“During the summer, during warmer months when we were doing all of the outside work, we had a maximum of 10 volunteers per day,” he says. “[O]n other builds, we might have 15, 20 volunteers...So the size of our crews went down.

“Obviously, that means the build cycle is going to be a little bit longer, it’s going to mean a few more hours for staff to be on site,” he says.

“Now currently, as the virus numbers are starting to go back up again, we’re trying to be proactive, not leave ourselves open for anything to happen,” he continues.

The volunteer teams doing the interior work are limited to four volunteers, and all must wear masks and gloves.

There’s “a lot of sanitation of tools,” Jonathan says. “We do a background questionnaire to make sure that people haven’t been...anywhere where there’s a travel ban [and] haven’t been exposed to people that have the virus or that have been exposed to the virus.

“[W]e’re still doing all of that work, all the work that we can with volunteers, just with a lot of precautions set in place, and due to that, it’s just a little bit slower of a process than it normally would be,” he says.

With volunteers, “you have two options,” he continues. “You either have a small group, in which case it’s easy to work one-on-one with the volunteers and just focus on a couple of tasks.

“If you have large groups of volunteers, you have so many hands that not everybody has to get a lot done in order to make a lot of progress,” he explains.

At the beginning of the work day, after getting the paperwork signed and sharing safety instructions, Jonathan will go over the jobs that they’ll be working on. Then he’ll ask the volunteers about their skill levels and building experience.

“During the framing process...if there [are] 10 volunteers on site, you might have one or two or even three people who, even if they haven’t done framing work before, they’ve done enough work that they generally know what they’re doing,” he says. “And if you explain it to them, they’re going to be able to be relatively proficient at that.

“And then you’ll have another two or three people who have less experience, but they’re comfortable using the tools that you’re using,” he continues. “And then you’ll have a few people who really have no experience and you really have to start from scratch with them.”

Jonathan pairs those with the least experience with those with the most experience.

“That way, they’re kind of assisting themselves,” he explains. “So I don’t have to try to be in all the different places at once...I can go from group to group and oversee what they’re doing, check what they’ve done so far is correct, give them pointers—manage in that way.”

As for mistakes, Jonathan explains that even professionals make them.

“That’s the beautiful thing about volunteers,” he says. “When you’re working with volunteers, they’re there because they want to be there...Generally speaking, people’s attitudes and the way that they’re approaching [the work] are fantastic.”

They’re not taking shortcuts, he says, they are doing the best job they can.

“If you need to redo or fix something, people are prompt to do so,” he says. “They want the job done right for the homeowner.

“It’s a different environment to do construction in,” he adds. “It’s really fun to be a part of.”

Jonathan describes his first home build for MHFH as “amazing.”

“I’ve been really, really blessed to be able to start down in Westbrook because the community in that area has been so supportive of this build,” he says. “The businesses in this area, the teams that they have sent out, even the neighbors—everyone...has been incredibly supportive of the build and what we’re trying to do.

“We have people who drive by on a weekly basis who roll down the window and ask if we’ve picked a family yet,” he continues. “They’re looking forward to welcoming this family into their community.

“That’s been a really cool part of this build,” he adds. “Something that I know isn’t always there to quite the extent that it’s been there in Westbrook.”


Aviva Luria covers news from Old Saybrook and Westbrook for Zip06. Email Aviva at a.luria@shorepublishing.com.

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