Still on the job: Habitat for Humanity celebrates birthday of long-time 93-year-old volunteer

Habitat for Humanity volunteer Bob Caliga prepares to blow out the candles on his cake. 
  
 Lance Shearer/Citizen Correspondent

Photo by LANCE SHEARER

Habitat for Humanity volunteer Bob Caliga prepares to blow out the candles on his cake. Lance Shearer/Citizen Correspondent

Habitat for Humanity volunteer Bob Caliga, center, with the group who showed up to help celebrate his 93rd birthday one day early Tuesday, at the jobsite where he is working this week. 
  
 Lance Shearer/Citizen Correspondent

Photo by LANCE SHEARER

Habitat for Humanity volunteer Bob Caliga, center, with the group who showed up to help celebrate his 93rd birthday one day early Tuesday, at the jobsite where he is working this week. Lance Shearer/Citizen Correspondent

Habitat for Humanity volunteer Bob Caliga installs vinyl shelving in a bedroom closet. 
  
 Lance Shearer/Citizen Correspondent

Photo by LANCE SHEARER

Habitat for Humanity volunteer Bob Caliga installs vinyl shelving in a bedroom closet. Lance Shearer/Citizen Correspondent

Habitat for Humanity volunteer Bob Caliga celebrated his 93rd birthday one day early Tuesday, at the jobsite where he is working this week. Lance Shearer/Citizen Correspondent

Photo by LANCE SHEARER

Habitat for Humanity volunteer Bob Caliga celebrated his 93rd birthday one day early Tuesday, at the jobsite where he is working this week. Lance Shearer/Citizen Correspondent

The Habitat for Humanity crew celebrated Bob Caliga’s birthday Tuesday, but they didn’t make a big deal of it.

Yes, the Habitat volunteer was turning 93 — his actual birthday was the following day — but they have done this every year since he turned 90, and anyway, he’s not the only nonagenarian in the Habitat for Humanity volunteer workforce. And besides, there was shelving to be installed, and cabinets to be hung, and walls that needed to be painted.

So some of the volunteers, office staff and Habitat executives, along with Jean Demezier, who will own the Golden Gate house they were working on, once the “rehab” process is finished, took a few minutes from the workday to sing “Happy Birthday” and share a birthday cake. Mercifully, there were fewer than 93 candles on the cake, but Caliga leaned over and blew them all out with one puff.

After a couple of hugs from female staffers, which had Caliga’s grin spread even wider, it was back to work. Caliga has been volunteering with Habitat for Humanity for more than 25 years, working hands-on to make the nonprofit’s mission of providing affordable housing to local residents a reality. He also served on the board of directors.

Three days a week, Caliga drives himself to the jobsite in his Toyota Camry from his home in Bentley Village. Even on two artificial knees, he moves well, is sharp of hearing, eyesight and mind, and a great “poster child” for the benefits of remaining active and giving of oneself.

These days, said Caliga, he is a little bit selective about the tasks he takes on. He has become the vinyl shelving specialist for Habitat homes. In addition, he does purchasing and some supervising of volunteers, but over the years, he has done it all.

“When he was a young guy, just 78 or 79, he was setting trusses, doing all kinds of physical stuff. He’s an inspiration to everybody — to see someone his age providing meaningful service to the community,” said Sam Durso, Habitat for Humanity’s president. And older volunteers are the norm, not the exception, at Habitat for Humanity, he said, particularly from Monday to Friday.

“We have many people in their 80s. Our average volunteer is 70 years old. We get groups from companies and service organizations, but that’s on Saturday. During the week, we depend on our retired volunteers.”

At the Golden Gate home where work was underway on Tuesday, Bob Atwood, 83, was working on installing pre-fab cabinets with Jamie Martin, 66, who joked, “I’m the kid on the crew.” Wilbur Smith, 91, works weekly alongside octogenarians Bob Horner, a pancreatic cancer survivor, and Bill Weisbarth, a former general contractor and the youngest of the warehouse crew at 81.

While Habitat is best known for building from the ground up, the real estate bust of the last five years gave them the chance to get into the business of renovating foreclosed homes, restoring them to like-new condition, and putting new owners into them.

“It’s a win-win, not just for us and the homebuyer, but also for the neighborhood,” said Habitat Executive Vice President Lisa Lefkow. “It’s not good for anyone to have vacant or abandoned properties around them.”

The 1,750-square-foot, four-bedroom, two-bath house being worked on will soon belong to Jean Demezier, who is excited to move in with his wife and five children. Like all the workers, Demezier, who works as a taxi driver, was happy to take a break and help celebrate Caliga’s 93rd, but then it was back to work.

“I came here to paint,” he said.

Habitat for Humanity of Collier County is celebrating a birthday of its own this year. The organization is turning 35, and proud to be celebrating their record of providing homeownership opportunities for more than 1,600 low-income families in Naples and Immokalee. Emphasizing their commitment to provide “a hand up, not a handout,” Habitat requires partner families to invest 500 hours of sweat equity and a $1,000 down payment before purchasing their home with a no-interest loan. As those homes are sold, the mortgage payments return donors original investments so they can be used again for the building of additional homes.

For more information, to volunteer or contribute to Habitat, call (239) 775-0036, or go online to www.HabitatCollier.org.

© 2013 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Comments » 0

Be the first to post a comment!

Share your thoughts

Comments are the sole responsibility of the person posting them. You agree not to post comments that are off topic, defamatory, obscene, abusive, threatening or an invasion of privacy. Violators may be banned. Click here for our full user agreement.

Comments can be shared on Facebook and Yahoo!. Add both options by connecting your profiles.

Features