Volunteer devotes 25 years to Habitat

Roger Davis points at some awards he has won while in service at Loudon County Habitat for Humanity.

Roger Davis has an important role in the mission of Loudon County Habitat for Humanity.

Davis, 80, was a mechanical engineer in Oak Ridge before retiring and finding his niche with the global nonprofit housing organization. Now 25 years later, Davis has helped build 90 houses.

“When I retired out at Oak Ridge, one of the guys at our church, First Baptist (Church in Lenoir City), was working regularly for Habitat, so he recruited me,” Davis said. “Then the first house we got into, I was working on putting siding on the houses, vinyl siding, and the guy who was leading that was a retired professional and had done siding for 25-30 years as a business, but he was a volunteer leader. He was a little older than me, so he promptly trained me to replace himself. Since I guess about 20 years, close to 20 years, I’ve been leading the installation of the siding on all the houses.”

Davis, who has always enjoyed working with his hands, is a skilled woodcarver of 45 years. Volunteering with Habitat helps keep his mind active, he said.

He initially took part in all the processes of Habitat builds but now installs the vinyl siding of every house as crew leader. Davis implemented a system to delegate a team leader for each wall of the house.

“All the people who come either have a little bit of experience or want to have experience,” Davis said. “... I make it clear to them our attitude is it’s only a dumb question if you didn’t ask it. We’re careful to make sure that people are, that they feel comfortable asking questions that they don’t know.”

He keeps volunteering at Habitat because of the organization’s mission and his faith.

“Well, Habitat is, I think, a unique organization in that the people involved with it are not bashful about admitting they’re Christians,” Davis said. “You typically start each workday with a prayer. We’re helping people who are really not able to have a home on their own, not able to have a decent home. Many of them are living in really substandard situations, and the possibility of having a home wouldn’t be there if they didn’t have Habitat.

“All of that is an inspiring thing to me,” he added. “I’ll be involved with it as long as I’m able. I just turned 80, so that may not be too much longer, but as long as I’m able.”

Davis is also on a list at his church to build handicap ramps when needed by members. And he “watches out” for a few people who call him occasionally if they need help.

“I believe Roger is led by his faith to help others,” Sammie Shanks, Habitat volunteer coordinator, said. “His servant’s heart, his skilled hands and his ability to lead others uniquely combine and really make for a model volunteer. Then his efforts, they create real and tangible results to help families live better lives.”

Tony Gibbons, Habitat executive director, described Davis as having an “incredibly kind soul” and “giving heart.”

In Gibbons’ 25 years of nonprofit management, he’s noticed a pattern where a core of volunteers will form to create the “backbone” of the organization.

“Roger is one of those individuals for Loudon County Habitat,” Gibbons said. “He has a very specific role with us that’s invaluable. He does the siding, and he has a good system in place that has stood the test of time. He’s great with people. I don’t know exactly how he got connected with us. … But it’s very likely it was something similar to what we see a lot in the Habitat world.

“Sometimes folks get Habititus,” he added. “You just kind of get bitten by the Habitat bug, and you see a connection with what you’re doing, with what’s important to you through this organization. Helping others, opportunities that are opened up for individuals who might not otherwise have those opportunities, you get to play a part in that in some way or another.”