Staff Highlight: Ryan Karis, Program Manager

Why did you decide to become involved with Rebuilding Together?

I have worked for nonprofits and non-governmental organizations for most of my adult life, except for the last few years when I worked for myself as a General Contractor.  I spent six years at Koinonia Partners (the predecessor of Habitat for Humanity) and worked for them when Habitat for Humanity was formed.  I also spent more than 15 years working for Habitat for Humanity of the Twin Cities.  While I enjoyed owning my own business, I really missed helping people and doing something beyond just earning a living.  One day, I was at Menard’s picking up supplies for one of my projects when I saw a Rebuilding Together Twin Cities truck.  “What is Rebuilding Together?” I asked the person headed to the truck (Jessie Livingston, an AmeriCorps member serving with Rebuilding Together Twin Cities at the time).  That conversation led to another conversation with Rebuilding Together’s Program Director Tony Sjogren and the rest is history!

What’s your favorite part of your job?

I love completing a project and seeing the impact on the homeowner.  For example, we installed a wheelchair ramp for a recent amputee in Farmington who had basically been trapped in his home.  Every time he had to go to a doctor’s appointment or leave the home, three adults had to carry him out down the home’s exterior stairs.  When he could finally roll down the ramp that we built, there wasn’t a dry eye in the group!

What’s your favorite band (or food if you don’t like music)?

My wife is a very good cook of several different types of food.  We have four children, ages 34, 30, 27, and 20, and three of them are adopted from Korea.  When we first adopted our kids, we participated in a Korean Culture Camp that included cooking and eating authentic, traditional Korean dishes like Bulgogi.  Bulgogi has since become one of my favorite foods.  It’s thinly-sliced beef, marinated in a sauce of sesame oil, soy sauce and green onions, grilled, and then wrapped in a leaf of lettuce or a sheet of dried seaweed with a little rice and a touch of kimchee.

Is there anything people might be surprised to know about you?

I had a mid-career break from working in construction by working for an international refugee resettlement organization for several years.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I’ve learned a lot through my international travel and work, and I’ve realized that being of service as a volunteer is very important.  You can make a positive impact in your home town or halfway across the world.  Be open to giving of yourself and spend time volunteering.