Lighting The Way
Land Park electrician finds fulfillment through volunteering
By Jessica Laskey
If Cliff Popejoy could tell people one thing, it would be, “Get out and volunteer. It doesn’t matter how often—a few hours a week, a few days a year—just find a niche that appeals to you, create the time and volunteer.”
Popejoy has volunteered for the Greater Sacramento branch of the global housing nonprofit Habitat for Humanity for more than 30 years. He knows the joy volunteering brings. It can even start you on a new career path, as Popejoy learned.
Eighteen years after leaving a “phenomenal” career with the California Air Resources Board, he decided to give back to the community. He tried lots of different organizations, but Habitat’s mission to help people get their own homes through sweat equity in exchange for no-interest mortgages appealed to him.
“The most moving moments are when the kids get to see their new house for the first time,” the Land Park resident says. “These families who work alongside us have often gone from having a cramped apartment to a house that’s all theirs. The kids have their own rooms for the first time. It’s hard not to get emotional. It’s a life-changer.”
Popejoy started with the nonprofit as a volunteer but was soon invited to join the electrical crew that wires each Habitat house. Popejoy had a master’s degree in analytical chemistry but no experience as an electrician. No matter, foreman Bill Hunt liked him, mentored him and eventually asked him to take over.
“By that time, I had worked with Bill for four or five years and had gotten quite competent at wiring,” Popejoy says. “He asked me to lunch one day at the Old Spaghetti Factory, where he revealed that he was ill and wanted me to take over the crew. How do you say no?”
After stepping into the electrical role, Popejoy was mentored by Habitat’s construction supervisor. He worked nearly every weekend—about 40 Saturdays one year. He gained so much experience and was such a natural that the supervisor encouraged him to take the electrical contractor’s licensing exam. Popejoy passed and began a second career as an electrical contractor in his mid-40s.
Now nearly 68, Popejoy is thrilled with his decision to pursue a new skillset. He passes that enthusiasm to his crew. “Everyone comes to the job site with joyful hearts,” Popejoy says. “We have an 8 a.m. start, but by quarter to 8, there are already people there waiting for me. The camaraderie has been wonderful.”
Popejoy is especially proud of one of his recent Habitat projects: replacing more than 400 outdated lighting fixtures at the Fruitridge Community Center, a former grammar school that now houses 22 community nonprofits and serves more than 2,000 people each year in South Oak Park. Popejoy and his 50-person electrical crew rebuilt every fixture in the 43,000-square-foot building, which he estimates will save the center $1,200 a month on electricity.
When the project finished in May, Popejoy went back to weekly Habitat builds, teaching electrical classes pro bono, mentoring crews and encouraging others to get involved.
“I hope by telling my story I can inspire other people to volunteer,” Popejoy says. “It’s a source of such deep satisfaction. I’ve gotten more out of it than I’ve given.”
For more information, visit habitatgreatersac.org.
Jessica Laskey can be reached at email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.