Whether days or years later, Thrivent clients and partners show up to help breathe new life into communities facing hardship.
Willie Nemeth is a stonecutter by trade, but he’s found his true calling bringing dreams to life for Habitat for Humanity homeowners.
Nemeth, of Maumee, Ohio, led his first
“I have a calling to connect people with volunteer hearts with opportunities to put their hands to work,” he says. “What Thrivent has done in connection with Habitat fills that calling in my heart.”
“Thrivent members’ heart for serving and supporting others is remarkable,” says Tricia Brown, vice president, Membership, at Thrivent. “In fact, Thrivent turns to them first to find inspiration. Our membership programs and benefits are designed together with members for members. They are created to strengthen and amplify the important things our members are doing in their day-to-day lives, whether it be caring for an aging parent, traveling across the country to support a community recovering from natural disaster or pitching in to support a local food pantry.”
Rebuild and recover in Rogue Valley, Oregon
The 2020 Oregon wildfire season was one of the most destructive on record. The Almeda Fire swept through the Rogue River Valley, a region in southwestern Oregon, burning more than 3,000 acres and 2,500 homes.
In September 2022, Nemeth led his 54th Habitat and Thrivent Worldwide build. This time it was to Rogue Valley, Oregon, where Habitat for Humanity has been working to bring life back to this fire-damaged area. While Habitat isn’t first to respond when a natural disaster occurs, they are there for the long haul, helping communities recover and rebuild through home repair, rehabilitation and affordable new homes. And Thrivent has joined them.
In Nemeth’s experience, the work is an entry point for creating connections. The homeowners and their stories—that’s what he and other volunteers remember the most. “To hear about a horrendous wildfire and what that can do is just mind boggling,” Nemeth says. “Now every time I hear about a wildfire, I’m going to think about the families in Rogue Valley and realize how devastating it is.”
Nemeth and his team of nine built a retaining wall, laid subfloor decking and raised all four walls on a duplex. Homes are built with volunteer labor to reduce costs and then are sold at no profit to the partner homeowners with an affordable mortgage. In addition, the future homeowners are required to put hours of “sweat equity” into the building of their home.
“Homeowners are always really thankful for the help and amazed that people come from near and far to work,” says Nemeth. And he’s grateful, too. “I’m proud of the people who leave home and spend a week of vacation and their resources to help a family they don’t even know. What volunteers find is that when they get out of their normal routine and focus on other people, it opens them up to a life of service.”
It was just helping in Fort Myers, Florida
In September 2022, more than 3,000 miles away from the Oregon wildfires, Gary and Sharon Torrez of Fort Myers, Florida, were recovering from a different kind of disaster. Category 4 Hurricane Ian caused 146 fatalities and left widespread damage totaling more than $50 billion.
Longtime Maryland residents, Sharon and Gary bought their first home in Fort Myers in 2007 and stayed for a few weeks each year. In 2012 they retired early, and in 2015 they bought a modular home in Jamaica Bay, a community for older adults. They developed close ties with their new neighbors, and endured Hurricane Irma together in 2017.
In 2021, Gary and Sharon moved four miles away. While Hurricane Ian left them with minimal damage to their new home, their Jamaica Bay neighbors didn’t fare so well. Of the 1,400 homes, about a third were damaged beyond repair.
“Fort Myers won’t be the same for years—if ever,” Sharon says. “The beaches are devastated. Boats sunk. Aluminum roofs are in the bay. Roads are wiped out.” In the days and weeks following the hurricane, Gary and Sharon brought power banks to charge phones, boiled water for drinking and delivered essentials to people in need.
The Torrez family wanted to do more but wasn't sure how to help or even where to start with recovery efforts. Their Thrivent financial advisors, Terry and Julia Glendenning, of Mount Airy, Maryland, suggested they create a
Gary and Sharon each applied to lead their own Thrivent Action Teams in the weeks following the storm. Gary leveraged the seed money to purchase plywood to board up broken windows and a Sawzall to cut down aluminum dangling from damaged roofs. Sharon used hers to purchase cleaning supplies to help prevent mold, mosquito sprays and netting, and she delivered them all around the Jamaica Bay community.
They also delivered food to friends who had no power for eight days. It was a very emotional time for everyone, Sharon recalls. “Sometimes people just needed a shoulder to cry on.”
While Sharon and Gary learned how Thrivent’s member benefits can support their neighbors in times of crisis, they also learned the importance of being present in those moments. “What we did was very small,” Gary says. “But the feeling of being able to help people—it’s hard to describe. It wasn’t how many people—it was just helping.”
In the days following Hurricane Fiona in Puerto Rico and Hurricane Ian in Florida, Thrivent launched a disaster response to support both communities. Donations totaled more than $380,000 including a Thrivent match of $190,000. Funds raised were sent to four disaster recovery organizations.
Thrivent also received more than 80 Thrivent Action Team applications to support Florida residents after Hurricane Ian. Many of their stories and photos are shared on the
“One of the things I find most amazing about Thrivent Action Teams is that it’s like a news feed of community need,” says Brown. “Our clients apply in droves to meet the most urgent needs—in their backyards or on another coast.”
Overall, in 2022, Thrivent saw a significant number of Thrivent Action Teams responding to local and community needs—like helping families reeling from an accident, diagnosis or natural disaster. “The personal connection matters,” Brown says. “And with rising prices, it matters to members that Thrivent’s generosity programs help make community service affordable and accessible.”
2022 at a glance
Second Harvest Foodbank & Thrivent: A mission-driven partnership
With the rising cost of food, it’s hard to imagine creating 25 meals with $10. But that’s exactly what the Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin does. And they’re carrying out that math for a growing number of people. Due to inflation and other economic challenges, one in 13 people in the area face food insecurity, resulting in the need for more food distribution now than during the peak of the pandemic.
The food bank supports 100 mobile pantries in the 16 counties it serves, and the realities are the same at each pantry. “People are spending more on food, medicine and housing,” says Karen Gallagher, corporate relations manager for Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin. “We’re in the business of helping take stress away and giving people dignity by providing fresh, healthy food.”
“What I really appreciate about Second Harvest is that they’re innovative and inclusive,” says Venita Garrison, Thrivent engagement leader for the Great Lakes Region. “When the pandemic hit, many small food pantries shut down. I called Second Harvest when I knew of a school, church or pantry that was struggling, and the Second Harvest team was quick to step in and find solutions.”
People are spending more on food, medicine and housing. We’re in the business of helping take stress away and giving people dignity by providing fresh, healthy food.
Partnering on Giving Tuesday
For the past three years, Second Harvest also partnered with the Thrivent Member Network – South WI Region to promote Giving Tuesday—a one-day fundraiser on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving. In 2020, the organization exponentially smashed its Giving Tuesday fundraising goal of $10,000, raising a total of $200,000, including a Thrivent donation.
“I think people wanted to give back in any way they could during the pandemic,” says Sarah Tomczyk, Thrivent engagement specialist who works with the Thrivent Member Networks in the Great Lakes Region. “And because members couldn’t volunteer in the traditional way earlier in the pandemic, it really encouraged a spirit of giving during Giving Tuesday.”
And that spirit of giving has continued. In 2021, they raised more than $188,000 for Second Harvest Foodbank. In 2022, the partnership raised $123,000 in online donations and added $10,000 with Thrivent’s match.
Thrivent has helped provide more than 1.4 million meals for southern Wisconsin families over the past three years, says Gallagher.
“It’s a phenomenal partnership. Thrivent is mission-driven, and we’re driven to support people who are food insecure,” she says.
National Giving Tuesday results
Throughout the U.S., Giving Tuesday brought in more than $1.3 million, including a $315,000 Thrivent match, in 2022. These funds will support the missions of more than 32 nonprofit organizations nationwide.
“Our shirts say it all: Live Generously,” Tomczyk says. “Thrivent members are committed to helping others. As a membership organization, we’re a catalyst for generous action and with Thrivent’s help, our members are inspired and their generosity is multiplied.”
Membership benefits can help you give back
Not sure where or how to start giving back? Choose one of the membership benefits below and try something new in 2023.
Thrivent Action Teams: Identify a need in your community or around the world. Apply to lead a volunteer team for a fundraiser, educational event or service activity. Gather your team members and Thrivent provides the resources you need to get started. Thrivent Choice®: Eligible clients can direct Choice Dollars® to organizations and causes, and influence how Thrivent distributes some of the program’s funding. Online giving platform: Make a donation to one of the more than 45,000 organizations enrolled in Thrivent Choice. Thrivent pays the processing fees so 100% of your donation goes to the organization. Habitat for Humanity and Thrivent Partnership: Help ensure everyone has access to safe and affordable housing in the U.S. and around the world.
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