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Written by Wendy Danks
The Housing First Minnesota Foundation partners with reputable nonprofits that are in need of additional capacity to house and provide services to people experiencing homelessness. To carry out its mission and vision, the Foundation needs the talent and support of builders, remodelers, suppliers, and volunteers. Through the board of directors, committee members, build partners, and so many more generous supporters, our Foundation is able to build futures through housing.
What drives these generous members that guide our charitable arm? Five of the newest additions to our Foundation’s board of directors share how they got their start in the industry and why they are committed to ending homelessness in Minnesota.
Coming into the business “kind of by accident,” board member Amy Hendel discovered a real love for the homebuilding industry. Her husband, Rick, had been pursuing medical school but, like a lot of young couples, picked up a side job to help with the bills. He’d been working construction when his biology partner connected him with a high-end remodeler on Lake Minnetonka, literally changing their lives. “He fell in love with building,” Amy recalls. And he saw an opportunity. Instead of how most builders offered just a few stock options to clients, Rick wanted to open up the process to allow clients a vast array of choices specific to their project. “He’s very gifted in high-end construction implementation.”
For the first two years, Amy continued her IT consulting business while helping Rick in the evenings. “I always say, I must have been young and in love to support him in this venture,” she says with a smile.
As the business grew, Amy realized she was just as captivated, even finding an outlet for her creative side. So, two years in she joined the company full time. She now handles much of the marketing, sales, and business operations. The couple’s skillsets dovetail perfectly, or as Amy humbly says, “we work well together.”
Joining the Foundation board was a natural step for Amy. “We’ve always served and been a part of several nonprofits and foundations that give back. So, giving back my extra time to our industry was a no-brainer for me. “Personally, one of my mottos is service before self,” she explains. “We can become so self-focused in our jobs and lives, but whenever you give it’s not about you, it’s about somebody else. I love that. Being reminded of others’ struggles creates a new perspective and purpose within our own lives. It’s what we’re called to do.”
From banking to window treatments seems like a big change, but for Kathy Raph it was a natural next step. Her career with US Bank started right out of high school. “They’re a fantastic company to work for,” she explains. “I worked there through all the big events of my life and figured I’d be there until I retired.”
Her growth with the company took her from the teller window to retail banking to training, running the IT service desk and strategic project management. It was a long and loved career until the economy and restructuring left her with a chance to try something new.
With a lot of time on her hands, Kathy’s plans started with exploring possibilities. She signed up for a franchise seminar more for something to do than a serious desire to own one. As luck would have it, a snowstorm left her the only student in the class and gave her a chance to learn one-on-one about the business.
She was a little surprised to learn that franchising resonated with her, bringing back her love and commitment to working with and helping others. “I started in service work at the bank and over the years it became less and less a part of my job,” Kathy remembers. “And I grew up in a big family where service and stewardship were just what you did.”
After exploring a number of options, the Gotcha Covered franchise checked all her boxes. As one of five in the Twin Cities, Kathy and her fellow owners decided to join Housing First Minnesota where she learned about the Foundation. She naturally gravitated toward helping and got the other four to pool resources and supply window coverings for the Housing for Heroes Bloomington build project. Kathy was hooked.
“I reached out to Donnie Brown, the Foundation director, who put me on the Foundation’s Dream Home committee,” Kathy says. “And I had the most fun I’d had in a long time.”
Like a lot of second-generation building professionals, Jeremy Larson plans to take over the family business when his dad retires. But unlike many, he took a short detour first. “I wasn’t sure I wanted to get into the industry,” explains Jeremy. “I did want to work with my dad, but I decided to go to school to be a golf pro instead.”
It didn’t take long to realize that a career in golf just wasn’t for him, but it was important for Jeremy to get some outside experience. “My dad had a rule that he’d never let me work for him until I’d worked for someone else for four years,” he noted.
When Jeremy told his dad he was ready to come “home” to start his career in the business, he soon learned what it’s like to take over a thriving and multi-faceted business. “I started with door-knocking and sales for our roofing and siding division,” Jeremy states.
Soon Jeremy was running that division and doing hundreds of jobs a year. By then he branched out to experience and manage pretty much every aspect of the business.
“Today, primarily what I do is real estate land acquisitions and city entitlements for our memory care facilities,” he says. That division builds, owns, and manages these much-needed properties. As a member of Housing First Minnesota, Jeremy was naturally drawn to serving on both golf committees. And as he’s good friends with Bob Bennett (a driving force in the Foundation’s work), getting involved with our Foundation was a given.
“I was raised knowing that we should be giving back,” Jeremy says. “Whether through our time or a donation. Giving has always been engraved in the way I grew up.” And give back he has, both through his time on the board and his firm generously donated roofing labor for two of the Foundation’s Housing for Heroes projects for veterans.
Samnang, which means lucky in Cambodian, is Ricky Cheath’s given name. The son of a high-ranking military man, Ricky was born in the horrific days of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. Fleeing to escape the genocide, he was just a baby when his family began the months-long trek to Thailand and freedom.
That was when his name was proven prophetic. “Mom and dad said they didn’t think they had a good chance of escaping carrying a 1-year-old,” Ricky explains. “But apparently I didn’t cry very often during the trip.” This was all while they slept in trees and walked through fields of landmines before reaching a Thai refugee camp.
Sponsored by a church in Janesville, the family made their way to Minnesota during the 1980s where Ricky’s parents took multiple jobs, his mom learned English, and his dad went to vocational school. The family, now of seven, graduated from a tiny two-bedroom apartment to bigger and bigger rental homes until they were finally able to purchase a home of their own when Ricky was in sixth grade.
“My parents sat us down to tell us they had purchased the house and we no longer would have to move,” says Ricky. “I was too young to understand what that meant, but that was the year my life changed again.”
The stability that homeownership provided for his own family has informed his decisions ever since, making his work both with Movement Mortgage and the Housing First Minnesota Foundation so meaningful.
“After going to college and working as a personal trainer, I realized something was missing,” he explains. “When a college friend suggested I come to work in the mortgage industry, I had a flashback to what that meant to my family.”
Fifteen years later, Ricky is regional director for Movement Mortgage, but hasn’t stopped there. He’s given countless hours to multiple nonprofits—including our Foundation—and he is devoted to working to end homelessness and reduce the homeownership disparity gap that exists for minorities.
Like a lot of people who are naturally drawn to both the housing industry and philanthropy, Gary Kirt had a hardscrabble childhood. Losing his dad at age six meant the family moved around a lot.
By the time Gary was a senior in high school, they had moved to the Twin Cities and he got involved with the Boys and Girls Club. That’s when he decided it was time to take control of his housing destiny by buying his very first home.
“That’s when I started investigating selling real estate as a career, but I became more interested in the financing part of the business,” says Gary. “Although I had a difficult time getting interviews, as most lenders required
a college degree.”
If you know Gary, you realize that that certainly wasn’t going to stop him. He kept trying until Conservative Mortgage Company took a chance on him the summer after graduation. He worked hard, learned the business, and discovered he had a lot more to offer.
“After 10 years at Conservative, I got the opportunity to buy the David C. Bell Investment Company in 1980,” Gary reports. “Which just so happened to be the 100th anniversary of the firm.”
The rest of Gary’s 50-plus-year history in finance is well known across the industry. But he didn’t stop there, his work in philanthropy and service has been just as storied. Gary started by giving back to the Boys and Girls Club, serving on its board for over 25 years and remains a trustee still. He’s volunteered for over 30 years with Simpson Housing Services, providing and serving hot meals at least once a month and where both he and his wife are emeritus board members.
He’s been supportive of the Housing First Minnesota Foundation as well. “I was fortunate to work with most all of the builders in the Twin Cities market and have always felt that Housing First Minnesota and its Foundation has a tremendous pulpit from which to make a positive difference in our homeless community,” he said. “Now that I’m mostly retired, I jumped at the opportunity to join the board.”
WANT TO GET INVOLVED?
Help build new lives for Twin Cities families and individuals experiencing homelessness. housingfirstmnfoundation.org/getinvolved.