Six Lessons

I did it and I am so glad I did! That seems to be the recurring lesson I am learning.

So far everything that was on my bucket list that I finally did I have loved. In fact, most have exceeded my expectations. The really sad part of it all is that for some reason it has taken me a long time to finally take the plunge and start doing some of this stuff and I am still not sure why. Why hadn’t I already donated blood, or volunteered for a Habitat for Humanity house build or jumped out of a plane? I really don’t know that answer yet but I am working on it. I’ll get back to you as soon as I figure it out. I promise.

So what did I do? I spent a full day on a construction site working alongside a dozen or so women helping to build a house for a Habitat for Humanity family. How was it? Amazing. Absolutely amazing.

My friend Susan and I took the plunge together and we both had a blast. The house we were working on was pretty much done on the outside so our job was to work on starting the trim work inside. In a way I was bummed, I really did have my heart set on roofing for some reason. But in another way, I was excited. I have leaned when one-door closes that only means another one is about to open.

When we got there we put on hard hats, safety glasses and gloves. Next we were introduced to several young women who were our crew supervisors. These young ladies were all in their early twenty’s and were recent college graduates. One of them gave the safety talk. I was impressed by how complete they were. We were told which power tools we could use, which ones we had to be certified and trained on before we could use them. We learned where the first aid kit and fire extinguisher were located in the trailer. We even learned where we could go on the job site and where we not allowed to go. Like I said, I was impressed, and I new OCEA would be pleased also.

Next, we were given a short history of AmeriCorps and Habitat for Humanity followed by a brief examination of how the process works for a family to be selected for Habitat for Humanity. I learned that AmeriCorp volunteers sign up for 10-12 month commitments. They are paid, although not much, and they volunteer a set amount of hours to fulfill their promise. These volunteers are located all over the United States and offer all kinds of support services to communities and other non-profit organizations. Our work crew consisted of several of these young dedicated volunteers. After they have fulfilled their AmeriCorp commitment, these students are given a $5,350 thank you, which can be used to either pay off existing student loans or for future educational needs like graduate school or a second degree.

We also learned that families have to go through an application and selection process with Habitat for Humanity, they have to be first time home buyers, have income above a minimum level and below another level. They actually buy the home from Habitat for Humanity and they have to be able to qualify to handle the payments. Once selected, each future homeowner then has to work on their house with the other community volunteers for 280 sweat equity hours. This serves many purposes, but one of the best benefits is that these first time home owners are given an excellent education in do-it-yourself home maintenance so they can keep their house as nice as it was when they moved in.

Once all the official paperwork and presentations were over we headed in and learned quickly how this operation worked. At first it seemed pretty confusing, the crew chief explained what jobs we were working on and what was required of each task. For example, we were told that kitchen cupboards needed to be hung. All the indoor trim work needed to be measured, cut and then nailed into place and that closet shelving needed to be installed.

Susan and I were ready for a challenge so we picked trim work! At first it was hard to tell who knew what. Obviously Susan and I knew very little, but several of the volunteers seemed to be fairly competent so we just tried to learn quickly and not mess up in the meantime!

Our crew chief Laura explained how to trim a door, gave us training on the chop saw and eventually on the nail gun. After that she turned us loose. Talk about confidence in total strangers!

Susan, another lady named Anita, and I started measuring away. Then we confidently headed out to make our first official cut of the day. The chop saw was intimidating but soon we had a nice 45-degree angle cut and proudly carried it back into the house to nail into place. Once the job was done we stepped back to admire our work and from across the room crew supervisor Colleen calmly asked, “isn’t that backwards?”

“What?” we blankly stared back at her.

“The thick end should face out so that the floor trim can but up to it” she patiently explained. That was the first lesson of the day.

Not to be discouraged, we pulled it off the frame and set it aside to use for the smaller piece above the door. We measured, headed out to the saw and tried again.
This time we cut the 45-degree angle going the wrong way. This was the second lesson of the day.

After three tries we finally got it right, got the trim nailed up and were ready to move onto the next side of the doorframe. This time we nailed the trim up before we cut off the shims in the doorframes. Now the trim would not lie flush with the door. There was lesson three for the day.

Our crew chief came over and showed us a trick of the trade. She took a piece of extra trim from the floor and tapped her hammer on it against the trim we were working on. The shim finally pushed back into the wall and voila we were out of the woods again.

It went on like this for the entire morning. After 3 hours on the job, our mini crew of 3 able-bodied women had finally trimmed ONE door. Yes, ONE door. At this rate the house would be finished in about 42 years! But what I love about it is that no one made us feel bad about our slow learning curve, no one criticized us in any way. They simply rejoiced in our success and patiently taught us how to correct our mistakes.

What really impressed me was that our “teachers” on the crew were not seasoned male construction workers. Our teachers were 22-year-old women and boy did they know their stuff! One was working on an electrical issue, and two were hanging doorframes. Each one knew exactly what to do and how to do it, and they made it look actually easy. After being a part of this crew for a morning I knew enough to know it was anything but easy! That was the fourth lesson of the day. (click on the link Habitat for Humanity to see a video of Jackie using power tools)
Habitat For Humanity

Late in the morning a woman walked in with a service dog. She had a lot of trouble walking and basically made it to the nearest box and sat down. I learned this was the future homeowner. How cool was that? I was being doubly blessed on this gorgeous fall day, not only by being able to help, but I was getting the chance to meet the woman whose home I was helping build.

We chatted a bit and I learned she is disabled and is mostly wheel chair bound; she has an 11-year-old disabled daughter. The daughter was born unable to speak; apparently she does not have the proper muscles in her neck and tongue. The daughter is also autistic. The mother told me she had just about given up on ever owning her own home but tired applying to Habitat for Humanity as one last-ditch effort. She was delighted when she found out she had been approved! The entire process had taken almost two years but here she was sitting in her future living room. She even shared with me that she had recently been in an accident and that this was the first time she had ever seen the house! Wow! The look of pride in her eyes made every bit of effort worth it. Lesson five for the day!

I am pleased to report that after recharging our batteries at lunch we progressed on to complete three doorframes in the afternoon!

I found out through the course of the day that I was working alongside a decorator, an accountant, an emergency room nurse and a homemaker. By the end of the day I was amazed to see that a dozen total strangers had rallied, bonded and worked together accomplishing almost all that was asked of us. All but one of the doors were hung and framed. Nearly all the floorboards were trimmed, the closets were shelved and the kitchen cupboards were started. The crew was tired but proud of their work; the homeowner was thrilled and feeling very blessed. Lesson six of the day, when you give you receive for more in return.

Helping Habitat
I will definitely do this again.

So my friend, I ask you “what’s next on your list?”

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter