Doing What You Do

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You're a builder. You build homes. Writers write, actors act, ministers minister and, as some say, doctors doctor. It's just what you do.

September 28, 2000

You're a builder. You build homes. Writers write, actors act, ministers minister and, as some say, doctors doctor. It's just what you do.

But, come to think of it, when was the last time you were able to get in there and actually frame a house, hang drywall or climb up and shingle a roof in the hot sun? Although that's how a lot of builders get their start-spending summers at dad's home building company or working at a trade-few continue to do it once they get into the business of running a business. And I'll bet you miss it.

Well, have I got an opportunity for you.


Bob Murphy of the Dow Chemical Company poses with fellow worker Jimmy Carter at the Dow-sponsored house at the JCWP in Plains, Ga.


A few weeks ago, I participated in the Jimmy Carter Work Project (JCWP) 2000 for Habitat for Humanity International (HFHI), building a home for a Georgia family of four. Started in 1984 by HFHI and Jimmy Carter-who still pulls on gloves, a straw hat and jeans to work year after year-the JCWP is an annual week-long building "blitz" where volunteers from around the country and future homeowners work side-by-side building a home.

I'd heard about Habitat before, of course, but if I hadn't been in Americus, Ga., and witnessed it myself, I never would have believed that 50 or so people, varying in skill from master builder to Lincoln Log builder, could come together and construct a three-bedroom house-from foundation to finish-in one week, with Sunday off to rest.

In fact, not just one house was built, but 35 houses were built in Americus and Plains, Ga. (Carter''s hometown), by scores of future homeowners, volunteers and Habitat staffers. During the same week, 22 homes were built or refurbished in Harlem and Brooklyn, and 100 homes were built in Jacksonville, Fla. All in all, Habitat for Humanity International (HFHI) founder Millard Fuller estimated that 10,000 Habitat homes were at some stage of construction during the week of September 9-16.

And in that time, the 100,000th Habitat house was built, and the More Than Houses: Rebuilding Our Communities campaign was launched, in which Habitat aims to build the next 100,000 homes in just five years. That's a tall order, considering that the first 100,000 took 24 years, but with impassioned volunteers, generous corporate and local contributors, and a very real need for decent, affordable housing around the world, HFHI is pretty sure they'll reach it. And I--having seen how organized and committed the particular group of people I met was-have no doubts either.

Habitat for Humanity was started in 1976 by Fuller and his wife, Linda, as a non-profit, ecumenical Christian housing ministry. Its very basic goal is met through its partnership approach to building homes for those in need: rather than build for them, Habitat volunteers build with future homeowners who contribute hours of "sweat equity" on their own home, as well as help with other homes in some cases.

Throughout the process, contractors donate their skills for electrical, flooring and foundation work, but the rest is done by the volunteers and families, who are lead by seasoned Habitat volunteers, many of whom are either in-or have retired from-their own home building companies. These yellow-hatted, ever-patient house leaders don't do much nail pounding themselves, but they make sure that if there is a nail to be pounded, a ceiling to be painted or a porch to be built, they'll find-and teach, if necessary-someone to do it.

Aside from the amazing purpose of the build itself-to build a simple, safe home that someone who never dreamed they could buy a home can afford-the experience of working with so many people united in purpose is remarkable. Some people-like Walter who joined Habitat 11 years ago because he felt called to it, or Judy who organizes builds with only women volunteers because she thinks that men can't be the only ones to solve the problem of poverty housing, or me, who went to cover a story-would call it life-changing.

Do you see where I'm going with this? Habitat has affiliates in every state and in 70 countries, and they build houses all year long, not just in week-long stints in Georgia, New York and Florida.

Be the guy-or girl-in the yellow hat, be the guy who installs the plumbing, be the guy whose company donates more insulation or siding or lumber than you can ever imagine.

Build a house. It's what you do. I promise you, you'll love it all over again in a whole new way.

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