It was a time for laughter and a time for tears; it was a time for play and a time for work; it was a time to remember and a time to look forward.
Earlier this month, members of the community came together to participate in a home building project through the Habitat for Humanity organization. A house was built to honor the memory of a young man who passed away too early in life. He was a truly unique individual, a freshman in college who was loved by everyone, young and old alike. He enjoyed a special relationship with his family and cherished the times they shared together, even those simple times just hanging out in his favorite place…their home. For that reason, the Habitat for Humanity project was chosen to create a lasting legacy in his memory and to allow another family to enjoy the comforts of a home in the same way that this young man did during his lifetime.
A MOTLEY WORK CREW
I was excited to participate in this project, though I had my doubts about the quality of the work based on the individuals who I knew would be volunteering (present company included). I wondered if the family selected as the beneficiary of this house could change their minds and choose to wait for next project once they realized that most of these “construction workers” did not even own tool boxes before the six day build began. They were teachers, architects, jewelers, non-profit consultants, and scrap metal dealers; they were financial advisers, CPAs, office supply store owners, legal marketing execs, and mortgage brokers; they were podiatrists, attorneys, retail merchants, retirees, and stay-at-home moms.
They were college students who had been his lifelong friends and high school kids who knew the family well. They were close neighbors who had been grieving with them for months and out-of-town friends who came in for the week to participate. They were strangers who merely read about this project on the Habitat web site and youngsters looking to perform some community service. They were Habitat for Humanity office professionals who traditionally raise money and manage the day-to-day operations of the agency, but rarely participate in the builds. Virtually everyone of these volunteers has a rolodex (or Palm Pilot) filled with names of contractors, handymen, painters, and roofers. For most, changing a light bulb is the extent of the household chores they perform. But, for one memorable week, these individuals became the most competent team of construction workers ever assembled (present company excluded) and built a home that will benefit a deserving family while serving as a memorial for this special young man.
I was a tad concerned that I myself would force an extra couple of days of labor as my building skills are severely lacking and much of my “contributions” needed to be corrected by those more competent (like the high school kids). I noticed that many of the nails I hammered into the side walls were ultimately pulled out and re-hammered back in properly (by a woman). Then again, her husband is one of the city’s most respected home builders so she was obviously well schooled from watching him work. (Because of her, when people told me I hammered like a girl, I took it as a compliment.) I would have helped construct the roof, but my fear of heights prevented my climbing that extremely tall (step) ladder. Mainly, I provided relief from the comfortable 102 dry Houston heat by passing out water to those most in need. (Actually, I wasn’t even very good at throwing the bottles to our roofers, who often had to reach for them and risk falling.)
It was painfully obvious to everyone that my sister was born with the building instincts in the family. By week’s end, she had become a master with virtually every tool in her newly purchased belt. She could even cut perfectly with an Ecco Knife and accurately use a tape measure. At one point, I thought I heard her complaining to her husband that she couldn’t believe they used a contractor for their major remodeling job a few years ago. Any further work needed at their home can be accomplished by her and her mah jong group.
THE RESULTS SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES
Some volunteers showed up to work every day. Others came once or twice as their schedules permitted. The adjacent streets were lined with Lexus’, BMWs, Mercedes’, and SUVs without a pickup truck in sight (mine was in the shop). Workers arrived that first day wearing designer tennis shoes and jewelry not typically seen on a work site. Eventually, they donned baseball caps and hard hats and picked up the lingo of experienced construction workers (without many of the four letter words). They laughed at each other’s hidden building talents and talked about their upcoming social calendars when they would return to normal character. Despite the heat and the ongoing threats of flash floods, they seldom complained about the conditions or the work itself. In fact, when lightning and heavy thundershowers prompted an early end to one of the workdays, a few of the troopers were heard asking if they could continue to work inside the house until the storm blew over.
Over a six day period, an entire house sprung up from a blank slab on a empty lot in Northeast Houston. It was a truly miraculous experience. The volunteers assembled the frame, roof, windows, and doors, while attaching the shingles and siding. While a few Habitat professionals guided the project, the vast majority of the work was performed by family and friends. Throughout the week, amidst the sawing and hammering, everyone shared stories of the young man whose memory had brought them together. We learned of his passion for life, his unconditional love for family and friends, and his big heart that knew no bounds. During the week, the deserving beneficiary family helped with the construction and, likewise, learned so much about the one individual who was most responsible for making their dreams come true.
Everyone remarked that he would have been the very first person to volunteer for such a project and was looking down on his “construction crew” initially laughing, but ultimately marveling over the spirit and unbelievable accomplishment. Though severe storms were forecast for the entire week, inclement weather halted work only two afternoons. One can’t help but think that he was still looking out for his family and friends and wouldn’t let the rain spoil their project. Even though he is no longer with us, this young man continues to display countless unique talents. For one week in June in Houston, Texas, he brought together a group of inexperienced volunteers and transformed them into the best damn construction crew in the city. And in doing so, he helped a family in need learn about something he cherished his entire life…“there is no place like home.”