NetApp Teams Up with Habitat for Humanity in North Carolina

NetApp 360 spoke with Blake Strayhorn, president and executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Durham, North Carolina, about the NetApp Playhouse project that launched in December.

Congratulations on the recent launch of this special project. Would you tell us about Habitat for Humanity of Durham?


Absolutely! But it would take hours to talk about all the cool aspects of Habitat’s work in Durham!  


Durham Habitat has such a rich tradition. Over the past 27 years we built over 290 homes and we served 682 families in Durham. Our vision is a Durham where everyone has a safe, decent, and affordable place to live.


Durham’s affordable housing needs are significant and quite evident when we tour folks through neighborhoods adjacent to downtown; 36,000 of our Durham neighbors live in substandard housing! We definitely have our work cut out for us. We’re addressing Durham’s housing situation—in partnership with those who care—by building new homes, rehabilitating older homes, and repairing homes in neighborhoods just outside of Durham’s downtown district.

Durham Habitat has a strong entrepreneurial mindset, and we are uniquely positioned as a leader to address Durham’s affordable housing issues. We don’t give homes away—we sell them to our homeowners. We keep homes affordable by allowing homeowners to use sweat equity (typically 250–400 hours) in lieu of a traditional cash down payment. We use volunteer donations and labor to build the homes, providing energy-efficient, green homes to keep operating costs low and lending mortgage money at zero-percent interest. 


A quick story illustrates who we are. Durham Habitat recently finished the complete rehabilitation of a dilapidated 1930s home near Durham’s Goldenbelt, a renovated mill converted into office and retail space. Our Habitat homebuyers for this home are a refugee couple from Burma. The home dedication—a Habitat ceremony to celebrate the completion of the build—was well attended, and it was gratifying to have neighboring homeowners introduce themselves and thank me for the impact Habitat has made in their neighborhood. They didn’t feel safe walking at night just a few years ago, and they attributed a large part of their newfound sense of security and the transformation of the neighborhood to Habitat’s work. It was a moving hour, one that affirmed who we are and what we do.


We’re proud that we served 72 families in 2012, but we’re also proud that our work is transforming neighborhoods from unsafe to safe and thriving. Mostly, we’re excited about our future impact! We’re enhancing already strong partnerships with all of our partners, especially our great corporate partners like NetApp. 


NetApp and Habitat for Humanity of Durham recently partnered to launch the NetApp Playhouse project. What is this project and who does it benefit?


The NetApp Playhouse project benefits Durham homeowners in need of safe, decent, affordable housing by allowing us to generate much-needed revenue to build and repair homes. The project is a series of fun, one-day team-building projects in which groups of 15–20 NetApp employees come together to transform a stack of wooden building materials into a vibrantly decorated, wooden 5' x 4' playhouse. The teams, led by Habitat volunteers in a 6- to 8-hour playhouse build day, construct the playhouses, choose the decorative theme, and paint the playhouses. The finished playhouses are given to a partnering nonprofit organization that is chosen by Habitat and the build team. NetApp and other corporations appreciate the playhouse builds as great alternatives to traditional team-building opportunities because the playhouses are so fun and each team’s camaraderie is enhanced with the strong Habitat service component.


What have NetApp and Habitat for Humanity been able to accomplish through the project since its launch in early December?



We launched with a bang, not a whimper! Rather than test with one build, we jumped in all the way by building five playhouses in three days under a tight deadline imposed by the opportunity to showcase our work on the lawn of the Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC). Our Habitat Playhouse Village, sponsored by NetApp, made quite an impression on the DPAC lawn next to Christmas trees for sale and a Christmas tree–decorating competition. We gave the homes to a partner nonprofit, the East Durham Children’s Initiative, which auctioned the homes to raise money. Everybody wins with the NetApp Playhouse project! 


Is this the first time Habitat for Humanity has participated in a playhouse project like this?


Yes, it's the first time Durham Habitat has participated in this program. NetApp has been working with Habitat for Humanity of Silicon Valley to replicate the successful program they developed together in California for their offices in Research Triangle Park. NetApp has raised more than $300,000 for the Milpitas, California-based chapter to build real homes for low-income families.


A great group of committed Durham Habitat volunteers, who call themselves the Geezers, lead our playhouse builds. NetApp employees, who are experienced playhouse builders, trained the Geezers on how to build the playhouses. The Geezers have embraced the Playhouse project and they’re excited about the project’s future. We’re excited to be the beta site for the expansion of this project.


When is the next playhouse build date and where will it take place?



The Geezers are leading the first of monthly NetApp build days on January 23.   


How can others get involved in this project?



They can call or e-mail Durham Habitat. 


Sandy Sweitzer

Director of Development

Habitat for Humanity of Durham, Inc.

(919) 682-0516 x107