5/25/2010 Jill Colford Schoeniger ’86

Building Dreams One Home at a Time

Tom Gipson '65 wins The View's volunteer contest

An early scene in Frank Capra's It's A Wonderful Life finds a young George Bailey on the receiving end of a lecture by his father, Peter, who runs the Bailey Building & Loan, on the importance of their work.

"I feel that in a small way we are doing something important. Satisfying a fundamental urge. It's deep in the race for a man to want his own roof and walls and fireplace," Bailey says. "And we're helping him get those things in our shabby little office."

Just as George Bailey came to understand and live by his father's convictions, so, too, did Tom Gipson '65.

"I grew up in a small town, Monticello, N.Y., and my father was 'Mr. Everything,'" Gipson says. "He was head vestryman at the church, president of Rotary, chairman of the Heart Fund, chairman of the Board of Education and chairman of the United Way. He just did everything in our community. I guess I felt for much of my life that I never could measure up to what my father had done."

Looking back at several decades of his own volunteer work, measuring up is no longer a problem for this Raleigh, N.C., home builder, philanthropist and volunteer. And he has the votes to prove it. On Oct. 19, ABC's talk show The View introduced Gipson as the winner of its Ultimate Volunteer Award.

  • the view photo1

Man of Action

The story of Tom Gipson starts well before Oct. 19, and it starts as most inspiring volunteer stories do—at the grassroots level.

Infused with his father's commitment to public service, Gipson became active in his community shortly after he moved to North Carolina in 1977. He and his wife, Pat, credit the successes of their five children to the local school system and the many community programs in which they participated.

Gipson serves on the boards of numerous charitable, civic and professional organizations and is a top fundraiser for Muscular Dystrophy Association of Wake County and top donor to the North Carolina Museum of Art.

But it is his work with Habitat for Humanity of Wake County that is most closely aligned to this builder's heart and roots. It is no surprise that Gipson, whose grandfather was a builder and whose father was a developer, would gravitate to the building business. Gipson, who has an M.B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, is the president of Thomas Gipson Homes, a custom home builder in Raleigh.

Volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, the nonprofit that seeks to eliminate poverty housing and has built more than 300,000 houses worldwide, seems like the perfect fit for this community-focused builder. And it is.

Gipson started volunteering in the 1980s, but it was an idea in 2002 that revolutionized his volunteer work. He decided to organize an event in which he and local home builders would build a Habitat house in one week.

"As professional home builders, we're used to working on deadlines," he says. "The ultimate goal was to leave the house ready for someone to move in."

He recruited 11 colleagues, and the Raleigh Builders Blitz was born, yielding 12 complete Habitat homes. The following year they topped that success and built 24 homes.

While the local program was a hit, it was Gipson's vision to expand his idea that has brought him this recent spate of attention. His thought was simple: "If we can build 24 homes locally, why not 1,000 nationally?"

A Habitat Vacation

Gipson approached Habitat for Humanity International in 2004 to partner with the National Association of Home Builders and turn the blitz into a national event.

After Habitat made the Home Builders Blitz a formal Habitat program in 2005, Gipson traveled to 60 cities throughout the United States to recruit builders for the first national blitz that was held in 2006.

Gipson built his pitch around a basic concept. "We ask the builder to spend a week of his life and take a Habitat vacation," he explains. "You start on Monday with a foundation and you finish on Friday afternoon with a complete house ready for the family to move in."

The beauty of the program, in Gipson's mind, is that it provides an opportunity for people to get involved in their own communities. "The builders can take one week and make a lasting contribution valued at $50,000," he says.

In June 2006, the first national Home Builders Blitz produced 459 homes in 130 cities across the country.

Gipson was thrilled. But, with the paint barely dried on the new Habitat homes, he was on the road again to thank the builders. "I went around the country to thank the builders for what they have done," he says. "But pretty much without exception the builders thanked me for giving them the opportunity to give back."

His road show also laid the groundwork for the next national blitz. Despite the country's experiencing one of the worst housing slumps in history, the national blitz built 263 homes in June 2008.

The Ultimate Volunteer

As Gipson prepped for the 2011 blitz in fall 2009, he was surprised to learn that Tim Minton, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Raleigh-Wake County, had nominated him for The View's Ultimate Volunteer Contest.

The show encouraged viewers to nominate people who were making a difference in their local communities. After more than 2,000 applicants were submitted, the field was narrowed to 10 finalists, one of whom was Gipson.

The voting closed on a Sunday, and Gipson was told he would hear on Monday whether he had won. With no phone call by day's end, he figured he had not won. But at 7 p.m. the phone rang with the good news.

He and Minton appeared on the Oct. 19 show, during which Gipson was awarded one million "Starpoints" from Starwoods Resorts. He also received $10,000, which he donated to Habitat of Humanity.

Gipson did not get a chance to talk about volunteerism on the show as he had hoped. "But the end result has been nice," he says. "The contest generated a lot of local and national publicity for Habitat efforts."

Through the local and national blitzes, approximately 1,000 homes, with a total value of $50 million, have been built.

For Gipson, the real satisfaction comes not from the homes, but from the memories the builders have of the many families they have helped. It is Gipson's own such memory from his first blitz that continues to inspire him.

"The house was virtually complete. It was dusk and the family, including three young children, were walking with me through their new home," he recalls. "All of a sudden the electric company connected the power, the lights came on and the paddle fans started turning. The children started jumping and running around the home with joy. Seeing the glee in their eyes made it all worthwhile and encouraged me to do more."

Now there's a sentiment that would make any father proud.

Building of the Blitz

2002 The Raleigh-area Builders Blitz produces 12 houses for Habitat for Humanity.

2003 The Raleigh-area Builders Blitz builds 24 houses.

2004 Gipson proposes to Habit for Humanity International that the local Builders Blitz become a national event.

2005 Habitat creates a formal program for the first National Builders Blitz.

2005-06 Gipson travels to 60 cities to recruit fellow builders.

2006 The first annual blitz creates 459 homes in 130 communities.

2008 The national blitz builds 263 homes with the country in one of the worst housing slumps in history.

2009 The View honors Gipson with The Ultimate Volunteer Award.

2010 Gipson hits the road to recruit builders for the 2011 blitz.
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