Habitat for Humanity volunteers put in sweat equity for home of their own

Habitat for Humanity volunteers at the beginning of their three-day project to complete six rowhouses in Point Breeze. Some are putting in time toward a 350-hour goal in order to be matched with a Habitat home.
Habitat for Humanity volunteers at the beginning of their three-day project to complete six rowhouses in Point Breeze. Some are putting in time toward a 350-hour goal in order to be matched with a Habitat home. (VIVIANA PERNOT / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 20, 2014

Not long after dawn on Thursday, about 50 volunteers made their way over to a Point Breeze rowhouse neighborhood, ready to put in the sweat they had promised. They all wore the accessory of the day: hard hats.

The volunteers, a mix of professional craftsmen and people with little or no experience in construction, had arrived by 7 a.m. because they had only three days to carry out their mission for Habitat for Humanity's Philadelphia chapter: completing a significant chunk of six rowhouses under construction - the framing and installation of windows - for families in need.

Among the volunteers was a 30-year-old single mother with three boys, ages 4, 6 and 9, who was putting in hours toward the future. She is a victim of domestic violence who declined to give her name, fearing for her safety.

She has put in about 160 volunteer hours, and still has a way to go. Habitat for Humanity requires the families it assists to log 350 hours of "sweat equity," with some of these hours coming at construction sites. Participants must put in 225 hours before Habitat will match them to a home. It typically takes 18 to 24 months to complete all the hours Habitat requires.

She said she often reflects on a conversation she had with her middle son. He told her that, one day, he would build her a house and paint the door blue.

Now she's hoping she can give her son the very gift he promised her.

And she knows exactly what she will do when she gets it.

"I'm going to paint my door blue."

For the project, on the 2300 block of Greenwich Street and the 2300 block of Cross Street, Habitat enlisted four construction companies - Dale Corp., J.J. White Inc., Equinox Management and Construction, and Paiz Construction - and Carpenters Local 1073 to supplement the usual contingent of volunteers and future homeowners who usually work on these projects.

And their expertise was needed: The dwellings will be two-story rows of about 1,200 square feet. They will have three bedrooms and hardwood floors and meet LEED gold specifications, meaning that they will be energy efficient.

Volunteers shouted warnings to the people around them, letting them know to watch their heads as large stacks of lumber came through. Though they were met with just a concrete foundation and first-floor decking earlier that morning, by 10 a.m. the homes were beginning to take shape as singular pieces of lumber were transformed into the walls of a home.

Having experts on hand for the construction makes a huge difference for Habitat. The agency will save four months of construction and a total of at least $60,000. The homes will likely be finished one at a time, one per month beginning in December.

"It's three days of their lives and four months for Habitat that it saves," said Corinne O'Connell, Habitat Philadelphia's associate executive director.

Habitat provides families with zero-interest mortgages, but the families must buy the homes themselves.

Of the six homes being built, O'Connell said, two - and once paperwork comes in, three - homes are already matched, meaning that they're already spoken for.

Ladonya Reid is close to getting matched to a home - she's already put in about 220 hours. Reid said she lives near Habitat's office in North Philadelphia and has seen the group building houses over the years.

"Once I got older I said, 'I want them to build me a house,' " she said with a laugh.

Although Reid has logged hours installing drywall and doing electrical work in the past, on Thursday she was helping where she was needed, whether that was moving lumber or making sure the volunteers stayed hydrated by passing out bottles of water.

Reid said she looks forward to moving into a home of her own with her two children and foster kids. In an apartment they once lived in, her son wanted to paint the walls of his room all different colors, but they couldn't - the walls weren't theirs to paint.

Reid is 29 and she said her goal has always been to own a home by the time she is 35. And, with just a few more hours, she will be on her way to doing so.

"At the end of the day," she said, "you have something that's yours to call your own."

For the 30 or so Dale volunteers, at the end of the hard day's work, they'd get to go home to their own houses and relax, said director of development Anne Fadullon. At the end of the work day on Saturday, six families will be closer to having those welcoming environments of their own, she said.

Even for professionals, getting six homes framed in just a few days is a rapid pace, Fadullon said, adding:

"I think it's appropriately named - it's a challenge."


215-854-5607 @CaseyFabris

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