Katherine_TochThis post was written by guest blogger Katherine Toch, Senior Marketing Manager, Cisco Corporate Affairs

A home, at first thought…seems like a pretty simple concept.  Four walls, some windows, a couple doors and you have a house. But it is more than that, it is a place to put down your roots and become part of a larger community.  It’s a safe and secure place to call your own. It’s a place to make memories and recall them through lively dinner conversations throughout the years. It’s a feeling of knowing you can keep the ones you love safe. Something so many of us take for granted. Whether here in the U.S or around the world, more people than not do not have a place to call home.

The statistics on housing are staggering: Globally 1.6 billion people live in substandard housing conditions. In addition, 1 in 4 people live in conditions that harm their health, safety, prosperity and opportunities. The current U.S. homeless population is estimated to be between 1.6 to 3 million people, and one-third of the homeless are children.

In my own backyard, the San Francisco Bay Area, fewer than 40 percent of families can afford to purchase a home. For hard-working families whose earnings place them in the low to very-low income classification, finding a decent, affordable place to live in the San Francisco Bay Area is an extremely difficult, if not impossible task. The current need for additional housing is unmet, and every day the number of families living in substandard housing continues to rise. As more families seek opportunities in the Bay Area and the population grows, the lack of affordable housing is becoming more pronounced and distressing. Families need and deserve a home.

Last October, I had the opportunity to be part of the Habitat for Humanity East Bay/Silicon Valley Carter Work Project in Oakland, California. I worked alongside my Cisco colleagues from around the company as well as Habitat volunteers including former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, AmeriCorps, and other long-time volunteers. We worked on twelve homes in a development called Brookfield Court.

A total of 185 Cisco volunteers worked more than 1600 hours that, when matched by the Cisco Foundation at $10 per hour, generated $16,480 for Habitat for Humanity. In addition, Cisco provided $168,000 in home building sponsorship grants. These efforts were led by long-time Cisco volunteers Darryl Kojima, Marianne Currier, and Joyce Newlan who all dedicate significant time and energy to Cisco’s partnership with Habitat for Humanity.

In October 2013, 185 Cisco employees joined other Habitat volunteers, including former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, to help build 12 homes in Oakland, California.
In October 2013, 185 Cisco employees joined other Habitat for Humanity volunteers, including former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, to help build 12 homes in Oakland, California.

Habitat for Humanity homes are built using a large amount of volunteer labor, donated funds, and materials. They are then sold at affordable prices to qualifying low-income families. Each family contributes hundreds of hours of volunteer labor or “sweat equity” to the construction of their home. This component of the program is a major investment on the part of the homeowner, and increases their pride of ownership. “Sweat equity” can consist of home building as well as community projects and leadership development classes.

I worked alongside one of the homeowners, Maria Zavala, and her son, applying siding to the outside of their home. It was like doing a series of squats for approximately 5 hours. They have lived month to month in a rental with the constant fear of eviction. They are from El Salvador, and having a home has been a dream of Maria’s for many years. Maria works full-time as a waitress at a local restaurant. Her son has a job after school and they went to the worksite on their days off. They worked non-stop on the inside flooring as well as the sideboards. They took such pride in the work they were doing and showed such appreciation toward all who were there to help.

Cisco employees Steve Martino (left) and Katherine Toch (right) with the Zavala family in their new home.
Cisco employees Steve Martino (left) and Katherine Toch (right) with the Zavala family in their new home.

This February marked another important milestone: I was able to join Maria and her two children to celebrate the completion of their home. In fact, I was honored to hand them the key during a ceremony that Habitat for Humanity holds for every homeowner to welcome them and wish them a happy and healthy future. It was amazing to be included in such a meaningful moment in someone’s life. Maria’s eyes were filled with tears as she thanked everyone for their help to make her dream come true.

Habitat for Humanity truly brings people together to build homes, communities, and hope. They revitalize neighborhoods, build affordable and sustainable housing, and empower families through successful homeownership. Their business model allows people to build a strong connection to their homes and their communities from the start.

Now the Zavala family has a place to put down roots, to be safe, and to be part of a community. They are no longer statistics. But there are still families who don’t have a home to call their own. Help make a family’s dream come true by volunteering for a Habitat for Humanity project near you.


Alexis Raymond

Senior Manager

Chief Sustainability Office