Since the nonprofit housing organization launched locally in 1985, volunteers Jane and Nelson Dodson have contributed time, energy, and finances to help families become homeowners.
As a teacher at York Country Day School, Jane Dodson oversaw volunteer opportunities for her students. A longtime proponent of York Habitat for Humanity, she arranged to have the students help at a Red Lion home construction site. Covered in dust, the students learned about hard work and sweat equity.
Years later, Jane and her husband, Nelson, also a now-retired teacher who spent years teaching at William Penn, and a diehard York Habitat volunteer, walked onto a worksite in York. There stood one of Jane’s former students, now married and working alongside his wife to fix up their own York Habitat home.
“We got to work with him on his house, knowing we had planted the seed all those years ago,” Jane says.
That wasn’t the end of the story, though. Much later, when the former student had achieved financial success, he donated the house back to York Habitat for Humanity.
“I get goosebumps when I tell that story,” Jane says.
A life of service
Nelson, who grew up in low-income housing, often was the recipient of a hand up as a child; a police officer took him and his brother to buy Christmas gifts, teachers would encourage him along the way.
“I always felt a need to give back because people gave back to me when I was a kid,” he says.
Their connection to York Habitat for Humanity began in 1985, when a group of ministers, including their own, David Bushnell, decided to bring Habitat to York. David’s enthusiasm for the project was contagious, and soon, Jane and Nelson found themselves swept up in a wave of community-driven change. They embarked on fundraising efforts, including a 10-mile walk in Philadelphia.
Their first experience on a Habitat for Humanity worksite was at a house on Penn Street in York. Jane humorously recalls her initial role as the “coffee runner.” In those early days, the organization operated with fewer restrictions, and even their two young sons were involved, swinging hammers and helping with demolitions. Now volunteers must be at least 16 years old.
Embodying the Habitat spiritAs the Dodsons became more involved, their roles on York Habitat worksites evolved. Nelson learned additional skills, built walls, installed closets, and eventually led work crews. Jane moved beyond fetching the coffee.
“I advanced to holding things while people did things,” she jokes. “I’m sure I did some caulking and I might have done insulation once, and decided I never wanted to do it again. Then, as I aged, I became the person who picked up trash on the site.”
“You were encouraging everybody,” Nelson counters.
Besides recruiting volunteers, Jane often rallied those who showed up at worksites. She also served on committees and on the Habitat board. Her nurturing demeanor made her particularly effective with younger volunteers and created an environment where people of all backgrounds could come together to make a difference.
The Dodsons came to embody the Habitat spirit, leading by example and inspiring others to get involved.
No construction skills required
Over the years, the Dodsons’ dedication contributed to the completion of about 20 of York Habitat’s 150 homes. They introduced students from William Penn Senior High School to the world of volunteering, fostering a sense of community engagement among younger generations.
While no longer going to worksites, the Dodsons continue to support York Habitat financially and advocate for its mission. They frequently drive past Habitat homes and reminisce about their experiences and the families whose lives they helped to change.
Nelson also regularly finds himself dispelling people’s notion that Habitat gives away homes. York Habitat homeowners must put in sweat equity on building projects, pay their mortgages, maintain employment, and participate in home ownership education programs.
“It’s worth your while to get involved in helping the people in the community, help people that need help,” Nelson says. “It’s not a gimme. It’s not a giveaway. It’s a hand up, not a handout.”
Helping people take the steps toward home ownership remains a passion for Jane and Nelson, who encourage others to become involved, no construction skills required.
“Anybody considering volunteering should definitely do it,” Jane says. “All they have to do is call the office and they’ll get plugged into a schedule. All the times that I’ve been on-site, I never saw anybody who didn’t enjoy it, who didn’t feel like it was worthwhile, and more often than not they come back.”