Mel Ressler has worked for Habitat for Humanity, on and off, for the past decade, including time spent with AmeriCorps. This week, she’s supervising the construction of two homes in Charlotte, N.C., that are among the 257 houses Habitat will start in different markets across the U.S. between April 30 and May 8 as part of its fourth annual National Women Build Week. Women on construction sites may still be more the exception than the rule, but they’re more evident on Habitat’s sites, where on any given week 10,000 female volunteers are helping to build Habitat homes around the world. Over the past 20 years, all-women crews have built 1,800 homes under Habitat’s auspices, the first of which was started in Charlotte 20 years ago.
Habitat launched Women Build in 1998 to encourage women to devote at least one day to helping build affordable housing in their communities. “Hundreds of women all across the country come together to learn new skills, share their experiences, provide encouragement, and build relationships while working alongside families in need of decent shelter,” says Jonathan Reckford, Habitat’s CEO.
Women Build’s Associate Director Lisa Marie Nickerson told Builder on Tuesday that the national event is attracting women volunteers who are both novices and experienced builders. (It’s also attracted some celebrities, including the actress Emily Bergl, the writer Lisa Whelchel, and cartoonist Jan Eliot, all of whom visited and worked at different jobsites this week.)
As part of its $1.3 million-plus sponsorship of this event, the home-improvement retailer Lowe’s Cos. conducted training clinics for volunteers in its stores around the country. Patty DeLuca, a manager at a Lowe’s store in Charlotte, says that her outlet conducted six clinics last week on everything from painting to wall framing.
Nickerson says Lowe’s sent nearly 1,000 employees to jobsites during the 2010 national event and would most likely exceed that total this week. DeLuca, who has worked for Lowe’s for four years and previously worked in her family’s flooring installation business, spoke with Builder on Wednesday from one of Habitat’s job sites in Charlotte, where she took a break from sheathing one of the houses being built. This was the first Women Build house she’s worked on, and she noted that each of Lowe’s 22 area stores had committed four employees to spend at least one day on the Charlotte jobsites. Ressler, whose background includes a stint with a local residential builder, was managing about 30 volunteers on Wednesday, when she told Builder that she organizes her workers along assigned task schedules. “It’s a lot easier to teach someone to build a Habitat home than it would be to build a regular house,” she said, since Habitat homes are generally simpler, with fewer flourishes. The owners of houses her Habitat chapter is building this week should be able to move in within three months. And as part of this week’s events, the chapter is also conducting critical home repair projects on several existing homes, many of them with elderly owners.
Nickerson is quick to note that while women comprise the majority of the volunteers participating in the national event’s construction, the crews don’t exclude men. She also says that the value of the event, beyond the homes it produces, is the “sense of camaraderie of building with each other” the women volunteers experience.
The ministry also offers a program called Girls Build, which Nickerson describes as an educational kit that Habitat provides to young women’s organizations like the Girl Scouts and church groups.
John Caulfield is senior editor for Builder magazine.
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Charlotte, NC.