By Kevin Sweeney
NEW ULM - When 135 bike riders rode through New Ulm this week on their 500-mile trek to support Habitat for Humanity, they were greeted by a New Ulm native who is also big wheel in Habitat.
Staff photo by Kevin Sweeney
Larry Gluth (right), senior vice president of Habitat for Humanity, visits the site of the new Habitat home being built in New Ulm. With him are his father, Dale (left) and Sarah Rotering, executive director of Minnesota Valley Habitat for Humanity.
Larry Gluth, Habitat's senior vice president for the U.S. and Canada, was in town, on business for the organization and for a visit with his father, Dale.
Gluth, a 1977 graduate of New Ulm High School, was living in Seattle and working his way up the corporate ladder at Starbucks when he drove past a sign near his house proclaiming a "20 House Blitz Build" was going up, organized through Habitat for Humanity. Gluth said he was intrigued by the project, and took a week of vacation to help out.
At a breakfast meeting Friday, Gluth said Habitat organizers told him what they really needed was coffee - they had 500 volunteer workers on the site each day, and they needed coffee.
Gluth went back to the Starbucks offices and got them coffee - a full espresso cart to provide lattes, coffee and tea for volunteers. He also organized a team of Starbucks employees to sponsor a home and help with the build.
Gluth served on the local affiliate's board a couple of years, but in 2005, when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita ripped the Gulf Coast, he took a sabbatical and spent a year working with the Gulf Coast affiliates, who went from building about 50 houses a year to starting over 50 houses each month to replace those destroyed in the storms.
After a year, Habitat offered him an executive position, but he returned to Starbucks. Three months later, however, Gluth realized his heart lay with the Habitat organization, and with his wife's encouragement, he left Starbucks and signed on with Habitat.
Habitat for Humanity has grown since its founding in the late 1970s to a global organization that served 81,000 families around the world last year.
The strength of the organizations are the local affiliates, like the Minnesota Valley Habitat for Humanities affiliate in New Ulm. Each one is autonomous, but the international organization provides programming and support.
The organization provides a hand up, not a hand out, said Gluth. The families selected to receive homes are usually the working poor, people who are employed but unable to afford buying a home through regular means. They invest sweat equity in their homes and sign a mortgage with Habitat.
Habitat has been branching into other areas of assistance. Many affiliates work with people who are in danger of losing their homes because they can't afford major repairs or upkeep. They are also working with cities to focus on rehabilitating neighborhoods and districts that have been hit by home vacancies and foreclosures, to improve the quality and character of the neighborhoods.
The local affiliate is planning on undertaking similar programs after it completes its home build this year, said Sarah Rotering, executive director of Minnesota Valley Habitat. It will be collaborating with other groups, like the United Way, to identify and help people who need help with house painting or repairs.