HGTV is proud to honor these people who are making their communities better places to live.
Community Crusader – December
Celebrity makeup artist Billy Brasfield, from Aberdeen, Mississippi, is working to revitalize his hometown. Billy, whose clients include Beyonce and Jennifer Lopez, is passionate about restoring his hometown to its former glory. His restoration efforts include his work with the Save Aberdeen Landmarks Group, Inc., a non-profit organization that recovers and refurbishes local buildings and landmarks in the downtown area. Along with the help of other volunteers, Billy has restored several buildings and homes, including the 150-year-old Kimmel Bakery, which is now houses a full-service hair salon and apartments. Billy and his team are devoting themselves to saving Aberdeen one building at a time.
Community Crusader - November
President, Redevelopment & Revitalization Committee
Brunswick, Missouri, was once a robust town with a thriving economy, but hard economic times and a devastating flood in 1993 turned this once booming town into a dying community. In 2007 Blake Dankert, an idealistic 21-year-old native, helped to breathe new life into his hometown by starting the Brunswick Redevelopment & Revitalization Committee.
As president of the Revitalization Committee, Blake has written several grants to help rehabilitate this town and has put in hundreds of hours of sweat equity. These efforts have paid off. A downtown city park was recently built on the site of an abandoned building, new planters have been installed in the business district and a building facade program for downtown building owners is now a reality. But Blake is just getting started. He has recently met with an architectural firm to design an outdoor courtyard in the heart of the community for public gatherings. In addition, he is busy working on a grant application to have an historic movie theater renovated to house the future Brunswick Area Heritage Museum and Welcome Center. To help defer the cost of some of these projects, Blake has raised thousands of dollars through various fundraising efforts.Blake Dankert's vision and leadership in revitalizing this town is truly an inspiration to us all.
The Groteluschen Family
Community Crusaders - October
Volunteers, World Changers
The Groteluschen family has been volunteering with World Changers in Casper, Wyoming, for more than 13 years and have completed 38 projects.
This family has many reasons for volunteering, but ultimately they feel the benefit is to them. They've helped people in need, developed lifelong relationships, watched their children (and hundreds of other children) really grasp what it means to put others first and have tangibly seen the difference one can make for individuals and a community.
Community Crusader - September
Student and Community Advocate
Avery Doninger is making a difference. After serving in AmeriCorps NCCC, Avery, who is 19, started college and immediately found a way to be of service in the community as a regular volunteer at the soup kitchen and a wintertime shelter.
After the shelter closed in April she continued to be a powerful advocate for a homeless veteran who was alone on the streets. Aware that many of the homeless faced new challenges in the summer, Avery developed and proposed a plan to provide showers for people living in a tent city. After her proposal was accepted Avery volunteered to staff the newly-available shower service.
Volunteerism is in Avery's bones. As soon as the earthquake hit Haiti she sought a way to volunteer. Avery spent the summer with Hands On Disaster Response in Leogane, Haiti. During her clean-up efforts, she started a blog to help those back home understand the conditions for the people of Haiti.
Community Crusader - August
Volunteer, Rebuilding Together
Mary-jo Webster, a native of New Orleans, is a dedicated volunteer with Rebuilding Together (RT), a national nonprofit organization that provides free home renovations to low-income Americans.
Mary-jo began working with the organization in October of 2008 when she recruited 4,000 volunteers from her company to work on RT projects in New Orleans. Motivated by their work, Mary-jo joined the RT New Orleans leadership committee, and has strengthened the organization through developing community partnerships and volunteering hands-on with several build projects.
The Salwen Family
Community Crusaders - July
The Salwens, a family of four who live in Atlanta, sold their home, moved into one half its size and donated the difference in value, $800,000, to charity.
It started when 14-year old Hannah, troubled by a growing sense of injustice in the world, saw a homeless man in her neighborhood near a glistening Mercedes coupe. "You know, Dad," she said, "If [the car’s owner] had a less nice car, that [homeless man] could have a meal."
The Salwens donated the profits from the sale of their home to help alleviate hunger in Ghana. The experience is documented in their book, The Power of Half.
Community Crusader – June
Animals are Judy Kelly’s greatest passion: she's a volunteer foster caregiver for the Jacksonville Humane Society. Her goal is to transform a detached building at her home into a temporary space for animals that are ill and/or need care until they are adopted. With this new area, Judy can provide foster care for even more animals.
Community Crusader – May
Businessman and volunteer
Larry Wright turned what he learned from his humble beginnings and relationships into a life philosophy of giving back. He built his company, The Wright Group L-A Media, LLC, with three goals in mind — growth, development and community. Growing his business isn’t his only objective, Larry focuses on giving back. That’s why he built a home for a single mom with three children, one of whom is a 14-year-old boy living with cerebral palsy.
Larry Wright isn’t stopping there but will duplicate this project with other deserving families. The next endeavor will take place in Etowah, Tenn., where Wright will build 14 homes for 14 families. Through Project Etowah, he will continue the process of educating new home owners on reasons for being responsible buyers when the opportunity presents itself.
Dr. Jennifer Buchanan
Community Crusader - April
Founder, Smiles for Habitat
Dr. Jennifer Buchanan founded Smiles for Habitat with the vision of providing local support to residents in McKinney, Texas, who qualify for a Habitat for Humanity home. She hopes to be able to raise enough through Smiles for Habitat in the future to build several homes a year in the area.
In 2001, Dr. Buchanan began hosting the annual Smiles for Habitat party to benefit the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity. In 2008, Dr. Buchanan took her Smiles for Habitat project to the next level by organizing a free outdoor concert open to the public. Smiles for Habitat has raised over $90,000 for the North Collin County Habitat for Humanity through private contributions and corporate sponsorships for its headlining event, the Smiles for Habitat Concert and Family Festival, which is held annually during the Memorial Day weekend. Two families are now living their dream of home ownership thanks to Smiles for Habitat. The organization is currently sponsoring the build of a third home.
Dr. Buchanan wants to bring Smiles for Habitat to several cities nationwide in order help hundreds realize their dream of home ownership.
Community Crusader – March
Volunteer, Rebuilding Together
Hal Gustafson, the owner of a construction company, father of four children, and an active community member, is also very active with Rebuilding Together in Genesco, Illinois. An unfailing volunteer, Hal comes early, stays late, plans ahead and returns for numerous weekends of work to ensure the project is completed — and always with a smile.
In the past five years Hal has served a vital role in the completion of three of the organization’s largest projects, including serving as house captain for 2009 Heroes at Home. The day before one build, Hal stood on a roof directing the delivery of trusses for the next day. Before he left that night, a quarter of the truss work had already been completed.
Previous years have seen him hauling wallboard to re-insulate and re-plaster a home for an elderly widow and hammering siding to a small home as part of a renovation. He served as house captain on several projects but is just as willing to work under another volunteer if that's what it takes to get the job done.
The strength of Rebuilding Together comes from people like Hal Gustafson, who gives his time and skills over and over to benefit his community.
Community Crusader - February
Volunteer, Rebuilding Together