The brightness of the light makes me squint at first sight. Though it’s no stronger than any other light in any other house; for me, this one is different. The glow is intense and I can feel it go straight to my heart.
It’s hard to explain the feeling. It’s more than a brief moment of accomplishment. It’s more than a “YES! We’re done!” moment. The reality, when you first flip a switch and bring a room from darkness into light… it’s a feeling I never knew I’d feel so intensely. Because, flipping a switch is something we do every day without batting an eyelash.
But that day, when I tagged along to my first Habitat for Humanity Women Build Day, I never thought it would end up being a life-changing experience.
I’ve always wanted to brush up on my home improvement skills. It had been more than six years since my own (heavily supervised) dive into remodeling my first home. While I learned a lot during those months of turning my vacant 1930s midtown bungalow into my “dream home”, those days are long gone and so was the supervisor. I was on my own and weary of taking on any projects without someone coaching me through every step.
The day started fairly ___as to be expected. We built a fence. We protected the home’s outer shell from pests with diatomaceous earth. (Google it.) We shoveled rocks and dug holes. The spring sun made each activity feel like the best, worthwhile exercise, which we all knew would bring a family closer to their dream of owning a home.
Where my day took a turn was at lunch time.
Wrapping up our lovely catered lunch (thanks, Hot Italian!), I started up a nonchalant conversation with Don. In between snapping photos of the event, Don explained to me that he was part of the “Electrical Crew” for the build. Intrigued, I asked for details.
Don explained that there was a group of volunteers that handled the electrical work on each job site, from “roughing in” wiring when homes were just barebones, to hanging ceiling fans, putting in switches and putting final touches on outlets. Most of the team, he told me, were either working electricians, retired electricians or general contractors, with a few exceptions that were apprentices learning the trade.
Sensing my interest, Don mentioned that they were always looking for more volunteers for the electrical crew, especially women. Unable to hide my eagerness, Don agreed to let me join him for the rest of the afternoon.
For the next three hours, I played diligent shadow and attentive student, watching as he showed me once (or twice) how to do each task. With the patience of a saint, he then trusted me to try it on my own. Every time my small task got the thumbs up and a proud nod of completion, my contactor confidence level shot up a level.
After wiring the first room, I asked about joining Don to wire an adjacent room the following day, to which he enthusiastically agreed. The rest is construction history.
In the two short years since that first Women’s Build Day, I have assisted with a total of four homes. I recently had the pleasure of attending one of the home dedications and meeting the family who will call it their own. I’ve had training days at the Habitat for Humanity of Greater Sacramento Headquarters, wiring outlet after outlet under Don’s watchful (and still patient) eye. I’ve had classroom time to learn the ins and outs and whys and hows of electrical work. I even have my very own tool belt.
The independence I feel from my time with Habitat cannot be quantified. The camaraderie is unparalleled. Don and Cliff and Jim and Gary and every other volunteer on the electrical crew has welcomed me with open arms. They know to talk slow and repeat often, but every time they initial a sheet with my name on it, verifying an outlet or switch was completed properly, I know they feel the pride I do. Together, we are making another family’s dream come true.
A word about those families… I was surprised to learn that, in addition to going through a rigorous qualification process, each Habitat family is required to put in 500 hours of “sweat equity,” both on their own home and on other Habitat homes. And their home? It isn’t free. The homes come with a zero-interest mortgage, paying forward the opportunity they are receiving. This is no free handout. At the dedication I recently attended we learned that the mother of one of the families would say goodbye to her family every weekend, dressed in her normal work attire, only to change clothes minutes after leaving them, diligently putting in her sweat equity hours so that she could surprise her children with their new home. (There was not a dry eye in the crowd.)
Habitat Greater Sac has also spearheaded innovative home repair programs to help dozens of senior, veteran, and low-income homeowners stay in their homes and avoid displacement.
This is what community looks like. I am incredibly proud to be a part of this team, however small my role may be. It really doesn’t matter what the role is you play, because each one is important. Whether laying a foundation, hammering a fence board into place or tucking a final shrub, every action propels a local family’s dream into reality.
California is in the midst of a housing emergency. Thousands of our neighbors struggle to afford adequate housing. This May is Habitat’s 2019 Women Build Month. The hope is for 500 women to participate and for $100,000 to be raised. There are two dozen opportunities to volunteer and be a part of making a local family’s dream come true. I’ll be there with Don and my electrical crew family. I challenge you to join us. You’ll be glad you did.