Local couple volunteer 40,000 hours of Habitat work

Local couple volunteer 40,000 hours of Habitat work

May 3rd, 2011 by Susan Pierce in Life Entertainment

Don and Diane Barnes organize construction equipment in the driveway of their home in Hixson. The Barneses are volunteers for Habitat for Humanity and recently won the United Way's Community Service Volunteers of the Year award. Staff Photo by Jenna Walker/Chattanooga Times Free Press


Names: Don and Diane Barnes.

Occupation: Retired.

Family: Two daughters, three grandchildren.

Recent honor: United Way's Volunteer of Year Award in Community Service.

Volunteer investment: More than 40,000 hours over 15 years.

When Don Barnes retired from DuPont after 36 years, little did he realize he and wife Diane were beginning a second career.

"We needed something we could do together," Diane Barnes said.

They found it at Habitat for Humanity of Greater Chattanooga. In the 15 years since they began volunteering their time to build homes, the Barneses have put in 40-hour workweeks for 48 weeks out of each year, according to Habitat officials. That's more than 40,000 hours of unpaid labor.

Their dedication earned them a Lifetime Achievement Award from Habitat for Humanity International two years ago. Two weeks ago, they were named Community Service Volunteers of the Year during the Volunteer United celebration sponsored by United Way of Greater Chattanooga's Volunteer Center. The appreciation banquet recognizes top volunteers selected from community nominations.

"Don and Diane are [among] the longest-serving members on our construction team," said Dawn Hjelseth, Habitat volunteer director, when nominating the Hixson couple for the award.

"There's not a lazy bone in their bodies," said Terry Shannon, minister of music and senior adults at the couple's church, Hixson First Baptist. Shannon said the couple have recruited several Habitat volunteers from their congregation.

Mrs. Barnes said it was through a church outreach that she began wielding a hammer. While missions director at Hixson First Baptist, she led several in-state mission trips to help build churches. When able to take vacation time, Mr. Barnes would join her. That interest in homebuilding led her to work with Habitat.

Q: How did your involvement with Habitat begin?

A: "Gail Pollack was Habitat director at that time, and she wanted to do the first women's build here with an all-female crew. It was a new thing for the guys; even inspectors had to wear a skirt when they came on-site, and husbands furnished the meals," said Mrs. Barnes, chuckling. "That first year we did pretty good."

Since then, Mrs. Barnes has led 14 women's builds, one per year.

Q: When did Mr. Barnes join you?

A: Mrs. Barnes said she started volunteering with Habitat in March 1996. Her husband joined her on his days off until his retirement in January 1997. Now the couple work 9 a.m. to 3 or 4 p.m. six out of seven days a week.

Q: What are their volunteer duties?

A: In addition to working at job sites, the couple manage deliveries to Habitat's warehouse, where they oversee volunteers' construction of walls. They also create blueprints and layouts for homes.

Mrs. Barnes said, "We have volunteers come to the warehouse to help nail walls together. We take the walls out to the site on a flatbed and stand them up. We do a lot of our work in the warehouse before it goes to the job site. It's a kind of prefabbing so we can work when it rains and we don't have to worry about materials disappearing from the job site."

"I enjoy the carpentry," Mr. Barnes said.

Q: Why have you remained involved longer than many staff members and volunteers?

A: "I look at it as my investment in the next generation," said Mrs. Barnes. "If we want our city to be better, then we've got to invest in these families needing homes.

"Homeownership builds stability, self-esteem. It gives a family security to know they have a place of their own, a place to come home to at night."