Habitat home gets help during Women Build Week

The week leading up to Mother’s Day is very special around the country and nowhere less so than here in St Augustine and St Johns County; but, not for the obvious recognition of the woman who brought us into this world — rather, as Historic City News learned, to make a family’s dream of home ownership come true.

May 5th through 13th marked Habitat for Humanity’s 5th Anniversary of National Women Build Week; and Historic City News editor Michael Gold caught up with one of the twenty or so volunteers working to deliver that dream in the Crawford Park community for Lorie Smith.

As the future homeowner, Smith is one of the volunteers in the project, herself; working with builder Gary Peterson and his construction supervisor, Alia Reimer — who has participated in building 50 Habitat for Humanity houses.

Volunteer Coordinator, Candy Radford, told Historic City News that she was excited and pleased with the women, of all ages, who attended to devote at least one day to the effort to eliminate poverty housing.

One volunteer woman said that only a week or two beforehand, she lost her 20-year-old daughter. Needing to keep her mind busy and get out of the house at this depressing time in her life, she decided to volunteer for National Women Build Week.

Another woman there to volunteer was Rachael L. Bennett; a St Augustine Beach planner and challenger for District 5 on the St Johns County Board of Commissioners in the August Primary Election.

Bennett agreed to allow us to chronicle her work with the dozens of other volunteer builders last weekend — and we promised not to get in the way!

As background, construction of a basic Habitat home is an approximately 16-week project — from start to finish. Habitat’s “National Women Build Week” program is underwritten, nationally, by Lowes Home Improvement Centers. It was estimated that by next year, Lowe’s would have contributed nearly $40 million to Habitat for Humanity.

“When we arrived at 7:45 a.m. on Saturday morning, the house was only a finished slab with stacks of lumber piled ready,” Bennett said. “By the end of the day, we had framed and raised three exterior walls — I understand that normally they will get two walls done in a day; but, everyone worked hard and the coordination was excellent.”

As you might expect, when everyone showed up for work, the first order of business was a construction team presentation including safety instructions. The volunteers were given “5th Anniversary National Women Build Week” t-shirts, nail aprons and bandanas, courtesy of Lowe’s.

After the volunteers mingled a bit, Bennett was called on to lead the prayer and then everyone was off to work.

If anyone held a stereotype of genteel Southern women on the jobsite — there to hold some brawny guy’s hammer and nails, or to fetch him a cold RC Cola when he got overheated, that image vanished immediately.

“Michael, I have to say that it was HOT and dirty work, but it was worth every second,” Bennett remarked. “I believe that it is important to use the talents and abilities that we all have for the benefit of others — and, I am ever glad that I did.”

RACHAEL BENNETT WORK ASSIGNMENTS

Saw lengths of lumber, by count, per work order
Construct headers for doors and windows
Build 2×4 wood jacks for the headers
Install jacks and nail headers to the jacks and framing
Help raise the framed walls
Nail the wall braces to the exterior framing
Help keep the walls upright until they are all tied together
Nail the hurricane braces onto the framing
Help clean the construction site when done

As expected, since Bennett’s career is in planning, she was particularly impressed with the Habitat for Humanity construction experience. “I cannot say enough about how well prepared this was, Alia had everything so well organized.”

Bennett went on to describe the day by saying that there was no confusion, no milling about with nothing to do — “everyone still had a great time and worked well together”.

Making it clear that, as a Habitat volunteer, you are there to work, Bennett said, “Habitat is for people who are willing to work to make a change – not for those who just want to show up.”

Bennett jokingly added, “I think that I drove in 7,297,451 nails on Saturday — at least it felt that way.” Needless to say, Bennett was not the only person who did these jobs. A couple did the saw work and the header construction, many different people worked on the jacks and installed the hurricane braces, and every one helped to lift the walls into place.

Despite reporting every muscle in her body aching after her volunteer day on the jobsite, Bennett says she felt wonderful afterward. “Habitat is a phenomenal experience — I encourage everyone to do this,” Bennett said. “The supervisors were professional and helpful, the volunteers willing and able, and now another family is about to get a home.”

Photo credits: © 2012 Historic City News contributed photograph by Josh Cockrell

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