“I never even dared to dream I’d own my own home. Waking up in the morning in your own home is awesome…it shows the power of God and what he can do for you, and I get to show that to my son.” – Caroline, Habitat for Humanity homeowner, event volunteer

Habitat for Humanity of Tulare and Kings Counties is committed to changing lives. Together with dedicated volunteers, professionals, and community partners, the organization renovates, builds, and repairs homes throughout the two counties and helps low-income families achieve what might typically be the impossible dream of home ownership. Every year, the Habitat’s creative Birdhouse Auction helps raise funds to support this critical mission by auctioning off handcrafted birdhouses.

This year’s Tropical Fiesta-themed event was held March 31 at Visalia’s Wyndham Hotel, and most of the estimated $45-50,000 in proceeds will be utilized to assist local, low-income homeowners with much-needed repairs. Event chairwoman Venita Jourdan, who began volunteering for Habitat 10 years ago as a Financial Credit Network employee, has been involved with the Birdhouse Auction for three years; this was her first year as Chair. Under her guidance, committee members Armando Apadaca, Andrea Crawford, Sherry Buenafe, Nicole Centafanti, Todd Mackey, Mary Rice, Anita Rodriguez, Yvette Machado, and Deanna Saldana worked diligently to plan each detail of the event, secure donations and decorations, and coordinate volunteers to ensure everything ran smoothly.

Volunteers also included students from Fresno State’s Social Work Program, as well as Habitat for Humanity homeowners, like husband and wife Caroline and Charles. (As part of the application process, prospective homeowners commit to contributing between 250 to 500 hours of “sweat equity” by building their homes or by supporting other Habitat projects.)

Tina, a homeowner for the past four years, was happy to be part of the festivities. “If it weren’t for Habitat, I don’t know where I would be,” she said. “I was having a hard time finding affordable housing, and the City of Visalia told me about Habitat for Humanity. I had just enough time to get my application in on the last day, and I was accepted. I’m legally blind, so the [building] process was a little daunting, but they gave me jobs I could do, painting large walls and things that were easy for me to see so that I could help to build my home. I’ve always wanted to own a home and never thought I would be able to. I feel very fortunate.”

At the auction, guests were welcomed into the tropics with lush greenery, flower garlands, festive music, and 10 custom-built birdhouses styled to match the evening’s theme on display. Each of the handcrafted birdhouses were made out of recycled materials and donated by talented local artists, most of whom have participated in the auction for multiple years.

Chairwoman Venita shared how the birdhouses make the event something guests look forward to attending each year. “Different types of people come together; it’s a more casual event and people get to just come and relax. And the birdhouses and the creativity that goes into them…the artists are so talented, and I think that’s part of what keeps people coming back.”

Guests were able to bid on the silent auction’s wide variety of items at the beginning of the evening as well. Enticing packages included artwork, wines, personal care, garden and birdhouse baskets, jewelry, nuts and foods, a barbeque, and Rawhide tickets. A beautifully refurbished kitchen island was also contributed by Habitat for Humanity’s Visalia ReStore.

Another draw to the event was the food, as 20 local restaurants donated and served an abundant array of delicious food to the 300 guests, volunteers, and staff. Samplings of their specialties ranged from Mexican and Southern to Spanish and Italian, as well as delicious desserts. Thanks to the generous donations, plates were filled to the brim, and needless to say, the desserts required a plate of their own.

Satiated and happy guests voted for their favorite restaurant and taste experience. The Southern flavors of Sadie Mae’s Catering, serving at the event for their 10th year, won the crowd over in both categories. All of the generous participating restaurants included: Applebee’s, Black Bear Diner, Bravo Farms, El Rosal, Goodies Cookies, Henry Salazar’s, Jack & Charlie’s, Javi’s Taco Shack, La Piazza Ristorante Italiano, Mache, Marriott hotel, Maverick’s Coffee, Rosa’s Italian Restaurant, Sue Sa’s Creative Catering, The Lunch Box, The Southern Pacific Depot, Tahoe Joe’s, The Vintage Press, and Wyndham Hotel. The attendees’ wine glasses were also as full as their plates, courtesy of donations from ASV Wines, Cacciatore Fine Wines, Farmer’s Fury Winery, Grocery Outlet of Visalia & Tulare, and Shannon Ranch.

Amy Shuklian, District 3 Representative from the Tulare County Board of Supervisors, served as Mistress of Ceremonies. She welcomed everyone and introduced the evening’s entertainment, motion artist Rick Alonzo, founder of Rick Alonzo Ministries. To music that included “The Eye of the Tiger” and “God Bless the U.S.A.,” Rick captured the imaginations of the audience as he used his hands, feet, and neon paints to create three pieces of art, which became part of the live auction.

Habitat for Humanity’s Executive Director Dirk Holkeboer took to the stage to express the organization’s sincere gratitude to the event committee, staff, sponsors, donors, and all in attendance for their support of Habitat for Humanity’s mission. He introduced a short video showing local volunteers’ recent trip to build homes in Nicaragua, and proudly noted that Habitat for Humanity, “transforms the lives of all of us who are able to see the changes that come from a decent and affordable place to call home.”

Auctioneer Flint Epps enthusiastically took over for the live auction. His energy and sense of humor kept bidders laughing and engaged, and generated good-natured competition for items like the birdhouses, artwork, a seaside round of golf, and trips to Puerta Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas.

The lively conversation and laughter heard throughout the night was evidence of a wonderful and successful event, showing how heartfelt energy becomes tangible when people gather together to make a difference in the world.