Joni Portmann joined Habitat for Humanity and hasn’t looked back

When Joni Portmann retired from 36 years as a dental hygienist, she quips that she laid around doing nothing for a year until she almost had bedsores.

Then she became a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity and not only “found a home,” but shed 75 pounds.

These days you will find her climbing ladders and helping to build duplexes and triplexes. We found her onsite, with background “music” the sound of construction workers.

“They say when you get to be my age you find it hard to make new friends,” says Portmann, 63, “but now I have friends of all ages. We laugh a lot.”

When the buoyant Portmann was on the brink of retirement she gravitated to Habitat’s booth at Pioneer Courthouse Square’s volunteer fair. She signed up to learn about opportunities. 

On her first day in 2017, she encountered freezing rain and snow, but she didn’t let it stop her. 

“I’d like to think it was a bit of divine intervention guiding me to commit to volunteering with Habitat,” she says.

Now, she’s a much-enjoyed regular among the volunteers. She greets every day with a smile on her face, and happily shares her good humor and delicious baked goods with her co-workers.

But it’s the ability to see a finished product that brings her the most joy.

“To see a raw construction site transform into someone’s actual home, knowing a bit of my sweat equity played a part, is something I’m proud of,” she says. 

She listens and learns daily, working alongside other professionals that include people working in the fields of medicine, architecture and business, and knowing the “mission is good.”

She’s effusive in praising the quality of the work.

The construction is “so energy efficient, I’d kill to have a house this tight,” Portmann says. “Habitat does not cut corners.”

Her favorite jobs are installing siding, flooring and carpenter work.

Portmann is just naturally curious so she is always asking questions. She praises her co-workers as well as staff for their patience.

Now, she can’t even fathom not volunteering with Habitat, but understands this type of work is not for everyone.

For those who can’t do construction work, Habitat has other volunteer opportunities. One job is a “site host,” where the volunteer signs people in, gets coffee or does other small jobs.

Volunteering for Habitat has benefited Portmann in many ways. In addition to losing 75 pounds, she also feels much less stressed.

And when she isn’t driving fence posts or installing exterior siding, she enjoys golfing, and rooting for the Oregon State Beavers, her favorite football team.

She also donates her time to other nonprofits such as SnowCap Community Charities, and hopes to continue volunteering for as many years as possible.

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