With hammers and power tools in their hands, women volunteers from Habitat for Humanity International's Women Build program joined first ladies from Alabama, Maine, and Arkansas at a build site in Mobile, Ala., to begin the First Families Building Homes Across America program. This aggressive and ambitious campaign is a two-year initiative to construct homes for low-income families in each of the 50 states, plus the District of Columbia.

A two-week jumpstart of the program began May 9th, in Mobile, Ala., and continued through the Mother's Day holiday. The Gulf Coast is an appropriate place to begin the home building initiative because of the number of homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina. To date, Women Build, underwritten by Lowe's, has constructed more than 800 homes since 1991.

Arkansas first lady Janet Huckabee participated in the event on May 9. She stated in an e-mail: “First Families Build[ing] [Homes] Across America is providing housing for many Katrina victims as well as others in need of safe, affordable housing. It also challenges women to learn new skills and empowers them to bring about happiness for many single women and head of households.”

Kate Pride Brown, a Habitat for Humanity International spokesperson, says the experience also serves as an introduction to the construction industry. She writes in an e-mail: “Although women make up half of all Habitat volunteers, women tend to be a minority on the construction site. This is often due to lack of training and inexperience with construction tools. Women Build encourages women of all backgrounds to build Habitat houses. By offering training classes and creating a welcoming, nurturing environment, Women Build activates women volunteers.”

She also says in her e-mail that most women volunteers on a Women Build site find the experience empowering, and they discover new talents and skills. Home building gives women a sense of pride and confidence. Furthermore, there is joy in the opportunity to help build a home for a family who would not have been able to afford one. She also states that it is important to note that Women Build is not about excluding men, but rather about including women.

For more information on how you can volunteer and participate in your area, please visit www.habitat.org/wb/default.aspx.