I started volunteering last year purely to help out a friend. She was working with a group of women to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity on a Saturday in February 2014. I came along because she needed more bodies for her crew. Sure I was intrigued about what I would get to do as my only other experience volunteering with Habitat was when I was 15 in SC and was pretty much a gofer… “Gofer this, gofer that.” So I didn’t have a really clear idea of what I would be expected to do or know as a 31 year old nurse with no construction background beyond hanging up some pictures and lots of arts and crafts.
I showed up dressed in old clothes and comfy shoes and got to experience one of the most amazing things. I was greeted by several smiling faces. I met Madeline, the Volunteer Coordinator, who I soon learned would be my guide into the wide world of Habitat volunteering, with her easy smile and genuine concern for the families. I dutifully handed over my paperwork, signed in for my first volunteer day, found out what group I was suppose to be representing (I still don’t remember to this day) and stood back to wait. I was given a program outlining why we were there.
This day we were doing a wall-raising. Coming into it, I thought we would raise a few walls, set a few things up and leave the rest to be done at a later time. We were introduced to an incredibly sweet family who had been working hard to stay afloat like so many of us but couldn’t seem to get ahead. We prayed together, listened to some heartfelt words of thanks from the family waiting to start on this new path to a better life. When we started it was a flat slab of concrete with multiple chalk lines, pipes, and bolts seemingly appearing at random. We went through a safety spiel and got started.
This is when I met Chad, the Construction Foreman. He made us all feel comfortable with our lack of knowledge but willingness to learn and eagerness to make a difference. The first wall went up and the day took off from there. Sure, there were times when everything didn’t flow smoothly and we had to make corrections multiple times but the crew made it work, all while cracking jokes and keeping us all feeling like we were helping. How daunting is that task, take complete novices into an area with sharp objects and heavy obstacles, give them tasks to perform and patiently help them through each step.
By lunchtime, we had made tremendous progress and I got to walk thru the framed house with the family and talk about who would get each room, what colors they were thinking about, and how they liked the neighborhood. Working alongside the families who will one day inhabit these homes, seeing the faces of the kids as they see the transformation of what will soon be their new home and room, is one of the most amazing aspects of volunteering with Habitat.
When the day concluded, we had the house completely framed including the trusses. What a transformation from a slab of concrete to a house! It was amazing! We were all tired and dirty, but more than that, we were blessed in being able to take part in such an awesome event. Before I left for the day, I found Madeline and told her I wanted to come back out and I just haven’t stopped.
In the past 1.5 years I have had the privilege to work on about 20 homes for my neighbors. It is amazing and awesome each and every time. While there are different aspects to working on the houses at different stages, wall raisings and dedications are just amazing blessings to be a part of. At wall raisings, we come together as a community and commit to helping this dream for a family come to fruition. At dedications, we come together again to support one another and welcome this neighbor home. We laugh, cry and pray together, sign the attic stairs, break bread, and strengthen the bond of community. This is the reason I keep coming back.
Yes it is fun to learn some new tasks, take out my frustrations on an innocent nail, and see an incredible project with so many parts come together, but it is the camaraderie, friendship, and love I experience each and every time I volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. Meeting a variety of people from our community and getting the chance to work with so many good souls is something I am thankful for every Saturday and I plan to keep on as long as I can. I also want my daughters to see that making a difference in someone’s life can take many forms; the friendship I gain from my Saturdays with Habitat makes a positive difference in my life just as being a part of an organization that does so much good helps me to feel as though I am making a difference.
I encourage all of my neighbors in Bryan/College Station to come out and get to know some wonderful people you get to call neighbors, and while you are at it, throw on some gloves, grab a hammer, and let’s build something great.