Building a Habitat for Humanity House with Nissan Changed My Life

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Typically we feature car reviews on this website. This is after all. As far as this article goes, however, there will be no talk of any specific car. Today we’re talking about Nissan’s partnership with Habitat for Humanity, which began back in 2005 after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita ripped through the Gulf Coast region. In response to the devastation, Nissan donated 50 trucks and sent employees to assist the rebuilding efforts.

That post-Katrina generosity has since snowballed into a remarkable partnership between the automaker and the global nonprofit housing organization. In the span of 11 years, Nissan has donated 138 vehicles and more than $13 million to Habitat for Humanity. In addition, around 6,000 of Nissan’s employees have logged more than 80,000 hours of volunteer work, building 71 homes across the United States.

Recently Nissan expanded its efforts even further with Habitat for Humanity by inviting the automotive press to lend a hand in building a home alongside a family looking to build a better future. I was lucky enough to be part of the volunteer crew for what Nissan calls “The House the Media Built”. The following video gives an overview of how meaningful this project was to me and my peers in the automotive press.

As you can see from the interviews, members of the media relished the opportunity to be of service. Nothing trumps giving back, and I can safely say this press event was the best press event ever I’ve done. I make that proclamation as someone who has tested the Bugatti Veyron and has flown in fighter jets. Unless Nissan does this again, or unless an automaker invites me to feed the undernourished in East Timor, this will be the best press trip I ever do. I don’t care if Mercedes-Benz invites me to the south of France for a week to cover a Maybach press launch. This will remain the best press trip I’ve ever done. Nothing can beat the rewarding feeling you get by helping a family build their first home, and a foundation for a solid financial future.

Contrary to what you might think, the homebuilding part is just a sliver of what Habitat for Humanity is all about. In fact, prior to volunteering, I had thought Habitat for Humanity homes were only built for homeless people. That is simply not the case. Folks like Mr. and Mrs. Marfan, whose home we built, are financially screened and background checked before they are admitted into the program. Once admitted, they must participate in six months of HomeWORKS classes that teach financial preparation and home maintenance. They also must devote at least 100 hours per primary applicant toward the building of their own home as well as the building of other program homes. Once the houses are built, the homeowners end up paying a 30-year fixed mortgage on the land, building materials and contractor labor costs.

So instead of a handout, it’s an investment in people and their futures.

Homeowners Rahmi and Awadia Marfan grew up in war-torn Sudan. According to Awadia, “You didn’t have freedom and opportunity if you didn’t have a government connection.” In 1998, Rahmi moved to Cairo and applied for refugee status to the U.S. Awadia left Sudan for Cairo in 1999. They met at a Sudanese gathering of mutual friends. By 2000 they were married, and soon resettled in Pennsylvania. In 2014 they moved to Nashville to be near Awadia’s sister.

Soon after arriving in Nashville, Rahmi’s vision began to quickly deteriorate. Even while undergoing various surgeries he continued to work full time, but eventually had to accept disability. Awadia’s many years working in home health care have helped her to take a more positive approach in assisting those who lack health. “It makes me appreciate life and remember that health is wealth,” Awadia said.


Before moving into their new home Awadia, Rahmi and their three children resided in a two-bedroom apartment. As homeowners, their goal is to build better futures for their three girls. The Marfans look forward to enjoying a backyard and a living room as a family gathering place. “I can’t thank our sponsors and volunteers enough,” Rahmi said. “Words can’t describe how I feel in my heart toward everyone who has helped.”

As much as the Marfan family thanks us, I thank them for allowing me to take part in such a meaningful experience. Giving back in such a significant way has changed my life, especially when it comes to the holiday season. Every year during the holidays we’re somehow reminded of the virtues of giving, whether it’s through the advice of those wiser than us, or through the heavy heartedness we get after watching It’s a Wonderful Life. This year, my reminder came in October when I helped a family build a better future. This holiday season, and every one after that will be different for me. I’ve now lived the essence of why it’s better to give than to receive. I learned volunteerism is able to thrill me more than even my life’s most thrilling experiences.

I used to get high from good deeds, but now I channel that high in order to make my good deeds even greater. Two days ago I got an email from the Motor Press Guild letting me know they were doing their first-ever food drive in conjunction with Nissan and the World Harvest Food Bank. Instead of replying that I would donate some canned food items, I emailed 40 of my co-workers and created a mini food drive of my own here at the office, so that when Nissan makes the rounds to pick up food donations in mid-December, they’ll have a jumbo box of goods to send to those at risk of hunger this holiday season.

Nissan connected me to Habitat for Humanity so easily, I had to pass the favor along by making it easier for my co-workers to donate to the World Harvest Food Bank. I’ll continue to seek ways to help those around me to connect more easily with good causes. I believe charity induces a chain reaction of benevolence, and by turbocharging my efforts to help others volunteer their time and resources, who knows? It may just be enough to change the world … and it all began with a house the media built.

Click here to browse Habitat for Humanity’s holiday gift catalog.

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