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Building Houses and Building Families; Mark Bippes ’69

Mark Bippes ’69 has heard a lot of touching stories, but the one that got to him the most was the one about the mom and her three daughters who lived in a dark, damp basement with no running water. When he asked one of the girls what she dreamed about, all she said she wanted was a window.

Bippes helped make her dream come true.

A gentle and giving man with a bachelor’s degree in math, a master’s degree in counseling, a career in youth ministry and 25 years of experience installing windows, he has been construction manager for Morris Habitat for Humanity in Morris County, N.J., since 2001. Morris Habitat is the local affiliate of the international, ecumenical Christian housing ministry that uses volunteers to build and rehabilitate homes to provide decent, affordable housing for families in need.

For Bippes, his job is about much more than building homes — it is about building families. “Moving into a home has a huge impact on children,” he says. “Some kids live in the same room as their parents. They have no quiet place to study. Having a home opens up a whole new world to them, a much brighter future.”

Since 2001, Bippes has seen 11 homes to completion and supervised countless volunteers—some with skills, but most just eager to pitch in and help. “My job is to keep a step ahead, to keep things going,” he says. Part of that is to make sure volunteers know what to do, whether it’s how to hold a hammer correctly or how to handle power tools safely.

In “Nail Class 101,” Bippes goes over the basics. “It’s challenging and it requires patience to work with unskilled volunteers,” he says, but it’s also extremely gratifying. “There’s a tremendous sense of fulfillment,” he says. “You see the volunteers with no building experience come out and be so excited. We call it ‘Infectious Habititus.’”

“Infectious Habititus” not only grabs volunteers, but many of the homeowners as well. After the family who once lived in a basement moved into their new Habitat home, the mother went through the supervisor training program so that she could come back, supervise volunteers and pass the dream along to another deserving family.

“When you see and hear things like that,” Bippes says, “you realize its [Habitat’s] impact.”

Even before Bippes was employed with the organization fulltime, he supported it financially and as an active volunteer, participating in several Jimmy Carter Work Projects and Collegiate Challenges throughout the 80s and 90s.

He even knew Millard Fuller, founder of Habitat International, before the organization was formed. The two met in the summer of 1970, while Bippes was employed by the Young Life campaign doing evangelistic outreach with teenagers. Bippes traveled to Koinonia Farm, a small, interracial Christian farming community outside of Americus, Ga., where he met Fuller and his wife Linda, who were working as directors at the time. Just six years later, in 1976, Habitat for Humanity was founded.

“My experience with Millard Fuller at Koinonia Farm had a tremendous impact on my Christian walk and personal growth,” Bippes says.

“Millard’s outspoken articulation of his faith has motivated me to make that a significant part of my work with Habitat volunteers each week.”

– Jennifer Post Stoudt

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