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Cold hands, warm hearts: Houston Habitat for Humanity build day

Written By: Vicki Powers, UT Physicians | Updated: January 23, 2024
Two UT Physicians providers helping to build a Habitat home frame

Brian Heaps, MD, and Rehal Bhojani, MD, use different skills to help a Houston family. (Photo by Kim Kham, UT Physicians)

Even with a delayed start, temperatures felt like the 20s on Jan. 17, the morning of UTHealth Houston’s build day with Houston Habitat for Humanity. Employee volunteers gathered around a portable heater as they waited for the safety meeting – complete with layers of clothing, jackets, gloves, and hats to attempt to stay warm. Despite the brisk air, more than 20 employees with UTHealth Houston and UT Physicians were excited to get started and make a difference.

“You’ll get warm once you start working,” a Habitat crew member said to the group, smiling.

For the fourth year, UTHealth Houston and UT Physicians are the title sponsor with KPRC-TV to build a home for Houston Habitat for Humanity. The process kicks off by raising walls on the construction site and is complete about 180 days later, thanks to hours of labor by volunteers, Habitat crew, and the future homeowner. Families who receive a home from Habitat for Humanity contribute more than 200 hours of sweat equity including building on the construction site, financial literacy coursework, and giving back to the community.

“KPRC could ask almost anyone in the Houston market to be their sponsor,” said Andrew Casas, senior vice president at UTHealth Houston and chief operating officer at UT Physicians. “We think it’s a privilege to be asked to be the sponsor, and we look forward to it every year. We want to give back to the community that has given so much to the practice plan.”

Making a difference

The employee group assisting the Habitat for Humanity crew comprised a variety of titles and departments. From Habitat’s perspective, this partnership is incredibly valuable. Not only in terms of volunteer hours to get houses built but also receiving validation from the medical community.

Group photo of the UTHealth Houston Habitat for Humanity home builder volunteers.
Physicians and staff braved cold temperatures to kick off Day 1 of a new home for Houston Habitat for Humanity. (Photo by Kim Kham, UT Physicians)

“UTHealth Houston understands what Habitat is doing – that having a safe, healthy, affordable home is important to overall health and wellness, both physical and mental health,” said Anissa Cordova, director of development and communications at Houston Habitat for Humanity. “Having partnership from the medical community is huge for us.”

One of the unique aspects of this build day is working in a new neighborhood, Robin’s Landing, in Northeast Houston. The community is a new model for Habitat, which relied on seven years of conversations and feedback from area churches, civic clubs, and elected officials. In response, it features walking trails, healthy living activities, a 12-acre park, outdoor areas, and services such as health care and banking nearby. It’s building a true community and setting families up for success.

Giving back

The spirit of giving back is what inspired Charles Massey, systems application specialist IV with UTHealth Houston, to sign up for the build, along with his wife, Lauren Massey, an assistant project manager with the facilities team at UT Physicians. He said his mom and dad always taught him to be available and to help “your fellow man” where you can.

“I’m thrilled to be volunteering for Habitat. This is my second year, and I enjoyed it immensely last time,” said Charles. “When I heard we were doing it again this year, I was one of the first to volunteer.”

The human resources team pursued the Habitat volunteering as a chance for team building that also allowed them to contribute to the community.

The most impactful thing you can do for a family is to ensure they have shelter.

Annisia Shynett, SPHR, senior director of HR, UT Physicians

“I don’t know if there is a better feeling than helping people in need, but particularly with issues like housing insecurity,” said Annisia Shynett, SPHR, senior director of human resources with UT Physicians. “The most impactful thing you can do for a family is to ensure they have shelter. This initiative for Habitat is incomparable in that way.”

Shynett emphasized how UT Physicians is the community. These are the same people who come to UT Physicians clinics and receive care. To serve them in a different way is the best thing we can do as an organization, she said.

Cynthia Huehlefeld, associate vice president and chief business officer with UT Physicians, came back for her fourth time to experience a day so different from her daily role. Coming to an event like the Habitat build offers something tangible you can see – and feel good when you leave, she said.

“I know that some of my favorite memories – I’ve made at home with my family, so to know that you’re contributing in a small way for a family to have that same experience in this community is pretty great,” Huehlefeld said.

Watch a TV clip and view photos below from the build day.

2024 Habitat Home Build-featured
As the clinical practice of McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, UT Physicians has locations across the Greater Houston area to serve the community. To schedule an appointment, call 888-4UT-DOCS.