Lake Norman & Mooresville

NASCAR women team up with Habitat

Two Lake Norman women connected to NASCAR are partnering with Our Towns Habitat for Humanity to build the nonprofit's first townhome.

The idea came about during a conversation between Michelle Gilliland, 32, of Mooresville, and Lisa Reutimann, 36, of Terrell, who were brainstorming on how they could give back to the community. Sheila Hebert, Gilliland's neighbor, quickly joined them as the duo's first volunteer.

Gilliland's husband, David, drives Front Row Motorsports' No. 38 Taco Bell car; Reutimann's husband, David, drives Michael Waltrip's No. 00 Aaron's Dream Machine car.

They are calling themselves Women of NASCAR, and it is the group's first major charitable effort. They not only plan to raise the $71,500 needed to build the townhome, but they also will recruit volunteers, organize fundraisers and help with the physical labor.

The group will host its first large-scale fundraiser for the project at 7 p.m. Sept. 7 at Positano Osteria in Huntersville. The event will include food, live music, raffles and a silent auction. Donations, volunteers and sponsors are needed. They hope to raise at least $10,000.

The project will be a part of Our Towns Habitat's plans for the building of 10 townhomes on Mills Avenue in Mooresville. The women of NASCAR group will build one of the units in the townhome project.

An affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International, Our Towns Habitat is one of more than 1,500 affiliates in the U.S. that works to eliminate substandard housing. To date, it has served nearly 200 families in Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville and Mooresville. Amy Heartman, a Habitat board member and leader of its annual Women Build project, will be the build leader of the NASCAR group's project.

Gilliland and Reutimann are considering sponsoring the building of a home each year.

"We are determined to build this home from the ground up," said Reutimann. "And we have enough women in the NASCAR industry to get it done. We will not stop until we reach the finish line."

They are planning up to five more fundraising events, and at least one will be tied to Charlotte Motor Speedway's October race, where they plan to sell lumber that will be used in the Habitat project and that can be signed by people who buy it.

"Right now, we're just trying to raise money and awareness about what Habitat does, as well as get volunteers," said Gilliland. "It's a 16-week build process, so we're going to need a lot of volunteers. And anybody and everybody can be a part of this project. You don't have to be a woman. You don't have to be involved in NASCAR. And if you don't have money to donate, you can donate your time."

Gilliland took on the project not only to help, but to set a good example for her kids.

"Lisa and I both have families and we're both mothers, so this project hits close to home," she said. "Then, when you get involved, you see how long the list is of people waiting for homes. We are blessed and I want (my kids) to be aware that they need to be grateful for the things we have and that they should give back to people. This also was exciting for me because you're able to raise a reasonable amount of money and you're a part of the whole process. You don't just write a check and disappear."

Tammy Cox has served as Habitat's resource development director for about a year, and she's impressed by the effort thus far.

"They've stepped up, formed an official group of women who are engaged in NASCAR, and they've really rallied to build this home," she said. "They've taken on the passion we have and that's to eliminate sub-standard housing."

If the group makes this an annual project, the results could be far-reaching.

"What that would mean for us is we would be able to find a home for a family in need each year," said Cox. "And that one home begins to impact other families in the area, the homeowners' extended families and it spread to impact the entire community."