Spotlight On … Habitat for Humanity of Tompkins and Cortland Counties

By Rob Montana
Tompkins Weekly

Photo by Shannon MacCarrick
Local women volunteering at Habitat’s 7th annual Women Build Weekend event in May work together to stack a completed wall panel. Over the course of two days, nearly 200 women volunteered to construct all of the wall panels for Habitat’s Third Street homes.

Non-profit organizations are plentiful throughout Tompkins County, and make a big impact in our communities. Despite their contributions, area non-profits can sometimes go unnoticed or unknown. In an effort to shine a spotlight on those who are making a difference in our county, Tompkins Weekly will be showcasing these organizations on a regular basis.

This week we are highlighting Habitat for Humanity of Tompkins and Cortland Counties, which originated as Tri-County Habitat, serving Tompkins, Cortland, and Cayuga Counties. Executive Director Shannon MacCarrick said that the organization “started off as a very grassroots and entirely volunteer-run organization, building one home every 12-24 months. Over the last seven or eight years, we’ve worked hard to transform ourselves into a staffed organization building one to three homes each year and also offering repair services, construction training for women, and other unique volunteer opportunities.”

To learn more about the organization, we asked MacCarrick about the what the organization does to make an impact in the community, as well as how others could lend Habitat a hand.


Tompkins Weekly: What is your mission?
Shannon MacCarrick: Together with our communities, Habitat for Humanity of Tompkins and Cortland Counties puts faith and love into action by building homes and hope. Our dollars and volunteer efforts are locally focused to accomplish this mission but we support Habitat International’s broader vision of a world where everyone has a decent place to live through an annual tithe, prayer and a shared advocacy agenda.

TW: How do you fulfill that mission?
SM: We fulfill our mission by partnering with income-eligible first-time homebuyers to help them improve or build a place that they can call home. As part of this partnership, Habitat homebuyers contribute “Sweat Equity” hours and they also re-pay an affordable mortgage to our affiliate. We use the funds from these mortgages to build more homes and grow our capacity. We also advocate for and support other affordable housing efforts in our community and throughout the state. We can’t solve the affordable housing crisis alone but are constantly working to build, rehabilitate, and repair housing, and to identify local families who need a better place to live.
We rely heavily on local donors to support our mission and on volunteers to help build our homes. Volunteer labor allows us to keep construction costs down and, in turn, we can build more homes and serve more families.

TW: What are the biggest challenges your organization faces?
SM: Housing is such a critical issue in our community right now. We’re a relatively small organization with a large problem to tackle. Providing and creating quality, affordable housing is a challenge that we embrace, but making up for the lack of it is not something we’re going to accomplish overnight.
Finding affordable land in desirable locations can be difficult. And, identifying adequate funding to sustain and grow our mission is a constant challenge. We love the generous local individuals and funders, like the Community Housing Development Grant, the NYS Affordable Housing Corporation, and the City of Ithaca HOME Investment Partnership Program, that recognize the importance of affordable housing. We’re always looking to grow that list of supporters.

TW: What is something people do not know about your organization?
SM: Plenty of people are under the misconception that Habitat gives away homes – that’s far from the truth! Our homebuyers invest “Sweat Equity” hours by working alongside our volunteers to build their home (and other Habitat homes), they take financial and homeownership training classes, and, upon completion of construction, they purchase their house and repay an affordable mortgage. Their path to homeownership might be a little different, but Habitat families are homeowners and taxpayers just like their neighbors.
People also think that President Jimmy Carter founded Habitat. He didn’t but, to this day, he is an active volunteer and a fantastic supporter of our work. Habitat’s brand wouldn’t be as strong without Jimmy and Roslyn!

TW: How can people best support your mission?
SM: There are so many ways to support our work – funding, obviously, is critical to our success. Any donation, great or small, allows us to serve more families in our community. We also rely heavily on volunteer labor to build our homes and anyone can share their time with us and join us for a build day on site. Our website,, provides more information about supporting our work and getting involved – even liking us on Facebook ( is an easy way to support us!

We’d really love to see everyone in Ithaca – construction professionals and those looking to learn, men and women, youth and retirees – involved in building our Third Street homes. The construction process is a really wonderful way to bring people together. It’s a tangible and rewarding opportunity to give back to your community and a fantastic way for donors to see their dollars at work.

Part of what makes Habitat special is the way that we engage the community in our mission. We’d like to think that participating in the build process and working alongside the homeowners-to-be makes our work unique. If anyone wants to learn more about getting involved individually or as a group, please contact us at (607) 844-3529 or – the more volunteers, the merrier!
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To connect with Habitat for Humanity of Tompkins and Cortland Counties on social media, visit its Facebook page at, and follow it on Twitter (@HabitatTC) and Instagram (@tchfh).