ON A THURSDAY AFTERNOON IN JUNE at the Raleigh, N.C., site of Habitat for Humanity's first national Home Builders Blitz, the guys from Toll Brothers were in trouble with the event's organizers—again. “We're in trouble all the time [on this project],” says Lee Aversano, senior construction manager for Toll Brothers' Raleigh division.

The company had drawn the tongue-clucking for extra touches it added to its Habitat house, such as the stone façade on the exposed concrete foundation, the chair rail and shadowbox molding in the living room/dining room, and the seriously upgraded cabinets and dishwasher in the kitchen. One-upmanship among the builders can lead to grousing down the road among the homeowners, so Habitat encouraged the builders to stick to the model of simple, decent housing.

But Aversano and senior construction manager Kenny Wilson just couldn't help themselves because they had fallen in love with the homeowner, Yvonne Bowers, a mother of four who lost not one, but two homes—one to a flood in 1996 and another to a fire in 2002. Most recently, Bowers and her children lived in a trailer that she bought for $1,000. Even when the family was homeless and living with missionaries after the fire, they shared with others in need and volunteered their time. A customer service rep at Lowe's, Bowers has taken a lifetime of troubles in stride. “When adversity hits, you have to laugh in its face,” she says. “You have to adapt.”

Meeting Bowers and her family “changed everything,” Wilson explains. “Now I know why I'm doing it. We do this everyday for a living, and we get numb to it. We're putting in long hours, but this is fun. I usually don't talk about work when I get home. My wife got an earful this week. She's excited about me being excited.”

EAGER TO WORK: After more than 18 months of planning, builders and trade contractors couldn't  wait to get started on their blitz-build houses. For about a third of the  builders, this was their first involvement with Habitat.
EAGER TO WORK: After more than 18 months of planning, builders and trade contractors couldn't wait to get started on their blitz-build houses. For about a third of the builders, this was their first involvement with Habitat.

It's the kind of story that was repeated across the country between June 5 and 9 as more than 1,000 home builders and countless trade contractors donated their time, talents, and materials to build 440 homes in 130 communities in five days. What started as a 12-house blitz with a dozen builders in Raleigh in 2002 evolved into a nationwide effort that was the largest blitz build Habitat has ever done in the United States. The big difference between this build and the typical Habitat event is that the crews were all construction professionals who needed little supervision. By week's end, more than 1,000 people—including refugees from other countries and hurricane survivors—were moving into safe, decent homes, purchased through no-interest loans.

ONE MAN'S VISION Raleigh-based home builder Tom Gipson organized and led the first builder blitz in 2002 (and the second one the following year) and traveled the country for 18 months leading up to the national event. The hope is that a significant number of homes will be built through builder blitzes every year, either nationally or locally, as a result of this year's event.

The 2006 blitz certainly served to raise awareness of Habitat in the builder community. A full third of the builders on the Raleigh site were working with the nonprofit group for the first time, and Gipson says he heard that kind of statistic echoed as he traveled the build sites during the week.

“The whole reason Habitat was excited about this program was they view it as capacity-enhancing,” Gibson says. “We hope the partnerships will be long-lasting and will stir other builders to be more involved.”

While all of the builders produced sturdy homes, the Denver affiliate was consistently mentioned as a site where the builders really took things to the next level. The 15-house blitz was done in Tollgate Crossing in Aurora, Colo., a new, 300-home, market-rate subdivision with strict architectural guidelines that included two-car garages.

“There will be half-million dollar homes in this community, and the Habitat houses are next to where the lead builder will do his houses,” Gipson says. “The restrictive covenants required brick and stucco, ... and the landscaping had to be done to exacting standards. ... The end result was incredible.”

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Denver, CO.