Helping Those Who Help Those

Russell Kemp’s pro bono work with Habitat for Humanity

Published in 2015 Colorado Super Lawyers — April 2015

Russell Kemp’s connection to Habitat for Humanity started with one email 13 years ago.

It came from the American Bar Association, asking if anyone could work pro bono for Habitat for Humanity of Metro Denver. “They had a project they needed help on, which turned out to be the first multi-family community condo that Habitat did in Colorado,” says Kemp, a real estate attorney at Ireland Stapleton Pryor & Pascoe. “So I got to work on a groundbreaking project.”

You could say it was in his genes. For almost 20 years, his uncle, Don Kemp, raised thousands of dollars for the Habitat for Humanity in Winneshiek County, Iowa, until his death in 2003.

“We went back to Iowa for his funeral, and that’s when it really struck me how powerful Habitat is,” says Kemp. “It was a Habitat-style memorial service. One of the people he had helped build a home for was up there eulogizing him, and instead of flowers they had bouquets of tools on the stage. I got to go see one of the houses he built. … It had a big impact on me. After that, I felt I was trying to keep Uncle Don’s legacy going.”

As a result, over the years, his firm has handled bond transactions and employment and tax issues for Habitat, while Kemp has assisted the nonprofit with land acquisition and other real estate-related projects. Every once in a while—though he says “I’m not a handy guy”—he’ll get out the hammer and nail, too.

“I’ve worked on a dozen build days, which are great experiences. We really get to know each other. Building alongside a Habitat family member who is going to live in that house is a very important experience—as is building alongside my older daughter, who works with Habitat Youth United, and makes for the third generation of Habitat volunteers in our family.”

Habitat was founded in 1976 and is guided by Exodus 22:25: “If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not treat it like a business deal; charge no interest.” Since then, it has helped build or repair more than 800,000 homes and served more than 4 million people around the world.

Kemp’s term as Habitat Denver’s board president recently ended, but he remains active on the World of Hope campaign, the Denver group’s fundraising initiative that aims to build 500 homes for area families by 2017.

“It’s in our DNA here at the firm,” he says. “It’s over a quarter-million dollars worth of legal work, either pure pro bono or discounted rates, that we’ve been able to do for Habitat over the years. We’re proud of that.”

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