Soldotna volunteer wins national award

Oct 13, 2021

Credit Courtesy of Rhonda Johnson

It’s hard to believe Rhonda Johnson doesn’t have more time in the day than everyone else.

Over the last seven years, the Soldotna resident has volunteered more hours than she can count to help build at least 45 houses for low-income Alaskans through the Rural Alaska Community Action Program, or RurAL CAP.

This fall, the national Community Action Partnership chose Johnson from volunteers around the country for an award celebrating her years of service. The organization flew her out to Boston to accept the award last month.

“I was shocked. I was honored," Johnson said. "Out of all 50 states, they picked me.”

Over the years, RurAL CAP has bought lots in Soldotna and worked with families to build homes through its Mutual Self-Help Housing Program. The program is designed for residents who otherwise might not be able to afford to buy or build their own homes.

Homeowners to-be put hours toward building each week and, in turn, don’t have to worry about down payments on those homes. The organization requires 35 volunteer hours each week, half of which can be donated.

That’s where Johnson comes in. She finished her own home in 2016 but in the years since has continued to donate spare hours to other families, often squeezing in time after work shifts and on Fridays.

“She really exemplifies what it is to give selflessly to others," said Mi’shell French, homeownership program director for RurAL CAP. She nominated Johnson for the award.

“She volunteers not just for us but for church functions and for the school," French said. "Anytime somebody needs her, she’s just there. She’s able to motivate our families in ways that our staff can’t, or isn’t able to because she comes from a place of understanding. She knows what it’s like to be in their shoes, to be going through this.” 

Johnson said she enjoys building houses. And she knows how much work it can take.

"Thirty-five hours a week, that’s a lot," she said. "And if I could do half of it, or help with it, it could help them. Because they have busy lives, themselves.”

Johnson said a lot of the people she’s worked with have become friends, including Sheffany Roberts. Roberts joined Johnson on her trip to Boston last month to accept the award.

“Everyone that comes into the program, usually it’s their first time," Roberts said. "And she has a way of teaching people and meeting them where they’re at and instructing them like nobody ever has.”

Roberts said Johnson showed up to help when she was building her own home. And she never stopped showing up, even when it was cold or snowy outside.

“She showed up one snowy winter day dressed in her signature safety orange and someone said, ‘Sheffany, Rhonda is here for you,’" Roberts said. "And I turned around and I said, ‘Surely, it must be an angel.’ And from that day forth she never left my side.”

Johnson said she has no plans to stop building anytime soon. 

French, the RurAL CAP coordinator, said the organization is preparing for its next round of building, slated for 2022. She said there’s still one lot open, off Mackey Lake Road in Soldotna.

To learn more, visit ruralcap.org or visit the office in the Blazy Mall in Soldotna.