Everyone knows someone who is driven to serve: the guy across the street who rakes the leaves of his neighbor’s yards; the student who delivers fresh baked cookies to the local fire station every Saturday morning; the retiree who never misses a cup of coffee and conversation at the corner café at the crack of dawn. Driven individuals seldom seek attention or praise, they just follow the “golden rule” of treating others how they’d like to be treated. Captain Ben Wallander is driven, and he’s determined to stay that way for as long as possible.
Ben was born and raised in the Upper Midwest, just outside of Green Bay, Wisconsin. Of course, he loves all the things you’d expect someone from that part of the country to love – cheese, sausage, and the great outdoors, not necessarily in that order. At an early age, Ben learned the value of volunteerism. He’d help out neighbors with projects, he’d donate his time outside of school to clean up local nature preserves and streets, and in his teens, he learned to swing a hammer and began dabbling in construction which led to him to learn about Habitat for Humanity ReStore.
During his formative years as a teen, he also developed a love for aviation. As he explored his options in becoming a pilot, he hoped that his flight path would lead him to landing a job as an airline pilot. When he started at Endeavor in 2016, he knew his career would start with time in New York. Instead of plotting ways to bid away from the Big Apple, Ben embraced the opportunity to explore this major metropolis and get involved in dishing up some of his homegrown helper mentality.
“I was spending time on reserve, and as someone who has trouble sitting around waiting for my phone to ring, I wanted to do something to give back,” Wallander said. “I found a post on the Endeavor intranet about a Habitat for Humanity build a few miles away from the airport. I went online and found that I would need to commit to eight hours of volunteering at a time, which as anyone on reserve knows, is hard to do.”
So, like any driven individual would do, he found another way to serve. He checked out the Habitat New York City website and found a local ReStore, a non-profit Habitat for Humanity owned storefront that sells furniture and building supplies at deep discounts and reinvests those proceeds into their home building projects, which needed volunteers. Wallander made the 20 minute hike from his crash pad to the ReStore, walked in and asked how he could help.
“Right away, they welcomed me in,” Ben added. “I sorted donated furniture, helped reorganize the store, and loaded vehicles for customers. I only intended to put in about 20 hours of time, but just really enjoyed it and kept coming back.”
According to the Corporation for National & Community Service, the organization that oversees AmeriCorps and Senior Corps, New York State ranks 49th in overall volunteerism. For Wallander, that wasn’t going to cut it. What started as a diversion from waiting for the phone to ring, quickly grew into a 35-40 hour per month commitment. Since starting in 2016, Ben has posted more than 500 of volunteer service hours with Habitat NYC ReStore, earning a “Volunteer of the Month” award and even the Winter Warrior award, which is presented to the volunteer with the most service hours with Habitat NYC during the brutal winter months in New York.
“Many of the folks who come into ReStore to volunteer are often there as part of some type of community service work or required school volunteer program, but I just love doing it,” Wallander noted. “I’m often asked how much more time I have to do and I just smile and say I’m here as long as they need me.”
Wallander has gone from simple servant to humbled Habitat NYC employee. He’s taken on added responsibility in serving as Volunteer Store Leader and Donation Manager, which means in addition to maintaining the space and sorting items for resale, he drives around the five boroughs of New York City collecting donations, working the phones soliciting donations and volunteers, and spreading the word about the good work being done at Habitat for Humanity
“I like the flexibility my job at Endeavor affords me, but knowing I’m making a difference at ReStore is what really drives me,” Ben concluded. “I don’t see where these donations go, whether it’s a single mom who just bought a house and needs a couch, or a family who’s barely making ends meet and trying to save money on furnishings, it’s nice to know I’m contributing to the lives of families across New York.”
When asked what he would say to his fellow Endeavor colleagues who find themselves in similar situations?
“Get out and do it. New York has so many charities and you don’t have sit around and do nothing while you wait for your number to be called on reserve. It’s really easy to get involved, just go and ask. This opportunity changed my life, and I know it can do the same for you.”