Meet Our Heroes
Allen F. Benson
Allan F. Benson has been a big part of Fox Valley Habitat for Humanity. He is a freelance reporter and journalist for the area publications in the Fox Valley area. Al has always made sure the community was informed of what Fox Valley Habitat for Humanity was doing since our first public home dedication in 1991 for the Seay family on Titsworth Court in Aurora.
Al Benson has been an Aurora native his entire life. He attended and graduated from Aurora University, when it was still Aurora College, in 1964 with an English major. During his time at the college, he participated in multiple extracurricular activities such as writing for the school newspaper, the yearbook, and the Writing Magazine. While he was attending Aurora College, he was a part-time editor at the Beacon-News. After graduating, he became a full-time photo journalist at the Beacon-News for a few years. He was then offered a job at the Aurora University Public Relations office as a writer and photographer. After his time there, Al worked as a freelance editor for several magazines and corporations, such as AT&T. In between all his reporting, Allan eventually got married to his lovely wife, Jean Benson, in 1989 and with this marriage inherited five stepchildren.
Al wrote a story about Fox Valley Habitat and the first home that was being dedicated in 1991 while working at Rockwell International. He volunteered to do the story at the request of Robert Richardson, former supervisor at the Aurora College. This is when he connected with Duane Mevis, one of the founding fathers of Fox Valley Habitat for Humanity. He started covering all the ground breaking and dedication ceremonies, came out to take photos and do stories on the corporate volunteer groups that came out to work, and got to know all the families working side by side the other volunteers. As his passion for the mission grew the more he wanted to do for Habitat. So, he decided he wanted to serve on the Fox Valley Habitat for Humanity Board of Directors. Al served many years on the board as Affiliate Publicist, documenting the changes of the affiliate, writing stories and taking pictures of the building progress of the homes being built and families who were going to be living in them. Through his pictures and articles in the area newspapers he made sure the word got out about this affordable housing ministry in Aurora. Even though it has been many years since he has served on the Board, his commitment to the mission and the families continues and now spans over three decades. Al has watched 67 homes being built and attended more volunteer build sites and volunteer meetings than any one person. When asked about why he connected with the organization he said, “I liked how the families have been helped and how this organization has changed these families’ lives forever.” His most memorable Habitat moments are the first home dedication for the Seay family in September 1991, most recent groundbreaking ceremony for the Owino family during the Covid pandemic in October 2020, and the first virtual Faith Build Home Dedication for the Estrada Family in December 2020.
When asked about the biggest misconception about Habitat for Humanity, Benson said, “Most people think the organization is simply giving away houses, when in reality it’s a partnership with the homeowners. They have to put in hundreds of sweat equity hours once they have qualified for the house.” He also emphasized that the organization is a nonprofit and needs donations to operate and build more homes. If more people knew how much Habitat for Humanity does for the community, they would be as dedicated to helping the organization as he is.
Fox Valley Habitat for Humanity would like to thank Allan Benson for all of his many contributions and recognizes Al by naming him Fox Valley Habitat for Humanity’s “Habitat Hero of 2021”. CEO, Jeffrey Barrett noted, “I have worked with Al Benson since 1997. No Board Member, no volunteer, no staff member, has been more dedicated to promoting the mission, opportunity and accomplishments of Fox Valley Habitat for Humanity.It has been and continues to be an honor to have Allan Benson on our team.”
Al has helped the organization grow into what it is today and we cannot thank him enough. Al Benson’s constant dedication to the betterment of Fox Valley Habitat for Humanity and the surrounding community is greatly appreciated. Honoring Al Benson as the 2021 Habitat Hero is a long overdue recognition to commemorate his contributions to Fox Valley Habitat for Humanity and our homeowners.
Since April 2015, Allen Green has been the jack of all trades and our Construction Supervisor at Fox Valley Habitat for Humanity. Al has overseen and built thirteen homes for Fox Valley Habitat. We would like to commemorate Allen Green as a Habitat Hero for all of the work he has done for our organization. We truly appreciate all of his hard work and expertise for aiding us to achieve our mission of living in a world where everyone has a decent place to live.
Allen Green is originally from Ohio, but was raised in Aurora, Illinois. He went to East Aurora High School and joined the Marine Corps at the age of 19. When Al returned from the service, he became a carpenter and he is still a carpenter to this day. Before working at Habitat, he was in between jobs and working at Home Depot. Al found out about Fox Valley Habitat for Humanity from his brother-in-law, Bob Channel, the Manager of In-Kind Donations at Fox Valley Habitat. He says that he genuinely enjoys building homes and helping out those who are in need. He also really enjoys teaching the homeowners and spending time with the Builders Club, a group of retired folks who volunteer on a regular basis.
Al is very grateful to anyone who has ever volunteered or donated to Habitat in the past because their contributions help us achieve our mission. He says that the materials that are donated are very useful and help them finish the homes. He also thinks that anyone who volunteers their time to help contribute to the cause is very kind. Allen’s favorite thing about working for Fox Valley Habitat for Humanity is the people that he works for. He noted, “Jeffery Barrett, our CEO, is one of the greatest bosses I ever had. Jeff is a really nice guy and he is easy to get along with.” Al suggested that anyone who is on the fence about volunteering to try it once and he guarantees that anyone who volunteers will enjoy it. He recommends volunteering with your co-workers at a Company Team Building Day because they are a lot of fun.
Al thinks the biggest misconception that people have about Habitat for Humanity is that the houses that are built are free. The houses cost almost the same to build as regular homes and the homeowners still have to pay an affordable mortgage. Al has a lot of respect for the homeowners because it is a huge commitment to become a part of our program and they are working for their house more than a regular homeowner would. He still thinks joining our program is worth it because our homeowners learn a lot of important things so they become successful homeowners. He encourages any form of help because the more help they receive the faster the houses are built and the faster that the homeowners can benefit from the homes.
In 2019, Al decided it was time to retire and after completing his last home with us, he moved with his wife to a new home in Tennessee in April of 2021. He has some restorations to do to his home in Tennessee, but wants to continue to work after the restorations are done. He stated he might work part-time or volunteer at a local Habitat for Humanity in Tennessee.
Al will miss all of his friends that he has worked with on the builds as much as they will miss him. He has touched the hearts of so many people and we all love him and appreciate his time and hard work the last seven years. We are proud to call Allen Green a Habitat Hero!
Mark Smudde is a volunteer who has been with Fox Valley Habitat for Humanity for over two and a half years. Mark recently retired and decided to spend his free time volunteering with Fox Valley Habitat Builders Club. Although construction has not been Mark’s main career, he is a great builder and has already shown his talents in the short time that he’s been with us.
Mark grew up in Geneva and has been an Illinois native for most of his life. He went to Geneva High School and Aurora University, which at the time was just Aurora College. After college, he was hired at Western Electric as a software developer up until he retired in 2018.
Although Mark had never done construction work professionally, he was always interested in learning and how to help with working on his house and his brother’s house. He likes working with the Habitat Builders Club because it was a change of pace and he enjoys the connections he makes with the other builders. Mark found out about Fox Valley Habitat for Humanity from President Jimmy Carter’s advertisements, he then decided to find out more on our website.
He sees Fox Valley Habitat for Humanity as a very beneficial experience for anyone involved and likes that volunteers get to meet new people and bond through achieving a common goal. He also sees our organization as something that can be life-changing to our homeowners as they get a chance to have something they might not have been able to accomplish by themselves. Mark has gained a new motivation for life since working with Habitat because he didn’t want to just sit around after being retired and he wanted to give back to the community. He enjoys the group of people he works with daily at the construction site and he feels a sense of satisfaction showing up to volunteer every day. He is ecstatic to talk about what he has been up to whenever asked because he loves to spread the word about our organization. He feels that what he is doing is providing real value to the world and he is making a difference by just doing his part. Mark says he feels a sense of purpose being able to help in any way he can.
Mark wants to thank the people that help fund, donate, and volunteer. It takes money, material, and labor to meet our mission, and Mark says that they are providing the labor and that without others’ contributions the labor doesn’t get done if they don’t have the materials to work with. Mark also wants to emphasize the importance of volunteering at Habitat, because their contributions also make the whole process go by faster. He recommends volunteering with Habitat when possible, because not everything they do is the same every day. Someone might gravitate towards a different aspect of volunteering, but volunteering multiple times allows them to find out what they enjoy. Volunteering with a group, whether from work or church, also helps enhance the whole experience, so he recommends joining in on our group builds. It’s also a great opportunity to meet new people who also want to give back to their community. Hopefully, as the pandemic comes to an end, we will offer more group volunteering opportunities for more volunteers to find their interests.
A big misconception that Mark sees people have about Habitat is that people think the houses are handouts. Some people think that we are a government-funded program that gives away houses for free to people who cannot afford them. Our homeowners work harder than the average homeowner to become a homeowner and they deserve the help they receive to achieve their dreams. Mark loves the fact that he can help deserving families achieve something they might not have been able to and it makes him feel complete.
So far, Mark has worked on six houses in the Aurora area. He noticed that when Habitat starts to build or renovate homes in a community, that the other surrounding homeowners start to bring new life into their run-down properties, completely changing the look of the whole street. Mark says that not only did Habitat provide houses for the homeowners, but they also improved the whole neighborhood in the process. He is impressed with the impact that’s created and how big of a difference they were able to make.
Mark has made a huge impact in the time that he’s been with us. He is an incredibly skilled worker and we appreciate the passion he has for helping our cause and we wish we had more people like Mark helping our organization. We want to thank him for the work he has done for us so far and the work he will do in the future. Fox Valley Habitat for Humanity would like to name Mark Smudde a Habitat Hero to commemorate his time and efforts for our organization.