I remember sitting in church in 1996 and seeing a couple walk on to the pulpit wearing tool belts. Odd, yes and then they began talking about a group called "Habitat for Humanity". Francis and Lori Fey speaking at River Bend Church http://www.riverbend.com/ introduced me to the organization. Along with a few others, I met them after church and agreed to help out with the next River Bend/Habitat Build for the Norma Avalos Family.(One of many sponsored by River Bend)
Before entering real estate in 1989, I had a construction background of over sixteen years as an Apprentice, Journeyman Carpenter, Construction Foreman and Furniture Designer/Builder but never encountered anything quite like "Habitat for Humanity". I was a fan of Jimmy Carter and say what you will about his years as President, he has gone on to prove that he is a true humanitarian and does indeed practice what he preaches! What's great about a Habitat site is that every work day begins with a prayer, no one starts a fight and you only hear a few bad words. And I will admit that they usually are uttered by me. (Old habits are hard to break but I am improving). Since working on that home in 1996, I have worked on various builds, homes and projects as a Carpenter, Crew leader and House leader for Austin Habitat for Humanity
As a Real Estate Broker, I work with buyers and sellers of upscale homes in the luxury market in Austin Texas. I enjoy my work immensely and make a good living. I do have to say that it's incredibly gratifying seeing a family that is "in-between" (not able to qualify for a regular mortgage but making too much to receive assistance) get the chance to own a home! I remember one year at a house dedication where all of the family was there except for one of the children who had just left for college. That's cool that a poor working class family could actually get child in to a school but what was mind boggling was the circumstance. The mom barely spoke English. Both she and her husband worked multiple jobs to raise the family and make sure the kids took school seriously. In fact, the son who left for college had a PERFECT ATTENDANCE RECORD for TWELVE YEARS. I was so impressed by that dedication and perseverance and by the fact that Habitat indeed represents the concept of: "A hand up, not a hand out!" Click on this link to learn more about Austin Habitat for Humanity
This year I had the good fortune to travel to Gulfport Mississippi and participate in the annual Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project 2008 - The Gulf Coast to help with rebuilding nearly three years after Katrina. It was an unbelievable experience and with my friend, Pat Horne, I worked with volunteers from all over the country to restore homes that were that had been severely damaged. The homes had new roofs installed, were stripped to the studs, sheet rocked and textured. Our crew painted the interior (I will never again say that painters have it easy!), installed flooring and new doors, trimmed out all windows and door frames and installed new cabinetry.
What was incredibly gratifying was working with so many young AmeriCorps volunteers. Wonderfully gifted and hard working, most of them in college or headed for graduate school and with such a great attitude. (They even helped me overcome my prejudice about vegetarians and VEGANS!) If you ever have doubts about the next generation, you can stop worrying. There were several local volunteers who also took time off from work to help out and it was truly a communal effort. No matter where you are, there is probably a Habitat For Humanity affiliate nearby. Check them out when you have a chance and you should make the effort to "make some time". I promise that after showing up you will learn something about building, meet some new friends and leave with more than you can imagine in the way of experience, new understanding and a true sense of thankfulness.
One of the things I had hoped to accomplish this year was to actually meet Jimmy Carter and maybe get a picture. Well, I finally got my chance. The Carter's worked on one of the new builds and also attended the different functions that ended each work day. I was amazed at the boundless energy of both of them as they put in long hours each day and hope that I also have that kind of energy and drive when I am older. On the last day before everyone departed for home, the Carters showed up to have pictures taken with the different housing crews. I was pretty excited and managed to say hello and shake their hands. The picture was taken and when I received it later this summer...there I was, with my eyes completely shut...looking like Forrest Gump! Ah well...it just gives me a reason to show up again next year and if you have the opportunity, I hope you do too! I would like to thank my friends Pat Horne (House lead on too many homes to list), Donita Haden (long time Austin volunteer coordinator), Michael Willard (Austin Director of Habitat for Humanity) and all of the other volunteers with whom I have had the honor of working side by side with over the years to improve our community!
For more information and to volunteer with a Habitat For Humanity affiliate or Habitat re-Store near you check out the International Habitat site at: Habitat For Humanity International
Remember, it's a hand up...not a hand out!