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May 9: Bay Waveland

By Katherine Graham

 

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Author Katherine Graham

   

My hands are wrapped around a two-by-four stud, standing upright and secure in a house recently framed, and I’m leaning backward with all of my body weight. Four of us are trying to straighten an interior wall and it’s not budging.

Someone runs up to try and help shove the wall into place, and I am met with an armpit in my face.

“Hi,” the owner of the armpit says.

“Hi.”

“I’m wearing Old Spice.”

“Thanks,” I say.

Welcome to the AmeriCorps Build-A-Thon in Bay St. Louis, Miss.

Preparation for this moment began months ago, when the Bay-Waveland affiliate first learned we would be a host site for the annual event, but the nervousness and anxiety didn’t settle in for me until this morning. I’ve never been part of a Build-A-Thon and I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, but as an AmeriCorps member working with the twice-honored Habitat Affiliate of the Year, I felt like there was a lot of pressure for us to do well, as individuals and as a whole, and to be gracious and prepared hosts.

I love my home affiliate. I first came here as a volunteer and felt such a strong connection to the work and the community that I applied for a year of service with them through AmeriCorps and Hands On Mississippi. Since my arrival, I have developed a passion for green building and take great pride in not only building houses, but building an entire subdivision for the people of Bay St. Louis. Going into this week, my greatest hope is that I represent my affiliate well to our visitors. This hope, however, only adds pressure.

Pressure that only sunk in this morning as we began setting up our construction sites with the tools we would need during the day.

Just as we finished setting up, the first bus load of AmeriCorps appeared on Union Street. If there was anything we’d forgotten to prepare for, the time had passed.

As the visiting AmeriCorps exited their bus they were met by one of our homeowners, Lorenzo, a local firefighter who has made a point to shake each person’s hand and thank them for coming to Bay St. Louis this week. It’s as if there was never any nervousness to begin with, only excitement, and Union Street quickly takes on a feel similar to summer camp. We’re like little kids, energized and shy, but it isn’t long before the first of many rounds of “What’s your name? Where’s your affiliate? Where are you from?” start.

After opening statements by representatives of Habitat International and our own affiliate and community, the day progresses rapidly, becoming one of the fastest builds I have ever been a part of. By lunch, all of the walls for the house I was assigned to are up.

Sweating under the Mississippi sun, I find myself straightening walls with a stranger’s armpit in my face, and I’m completely fine with it. It’s a comical way to break the ice between strangers, and I laugh to myself when I think of all the preparation that went into creating an opportunity for someone to barge into my personal space.

We’re all dusty and smelly, but the wonderful thing is that we understand - we understand it’s part of the job, and in a way we understand each other. It comes down to this: We’re all AmeriCorps members for Habitat for Humanity.

Though we’ve only met a few hours ago and come from different affiliates, and though different situations have lead us here, we all share a similar goal. We have the same gripes and struggles on site as we have the same enthusiasm at the sight of a recently raised wall, or a family moving into a new home. Because of these shared emotions, we understand.

When it’s time to leave for the day, most of our trusses are installed, and sheathing has started on two of the exterior walls. I’m more than excited for the remainder of the week; it’s incredible to work side-by-side with like-minded strangers, peers I have only recently met, and I can’t wait to share the work ahead.

Day one, and I’m already having a blast.

Katherine Graham is a first year AmeriCorps member with Habitat for Humanity as deployed through Hands On Mississippi. She is proud to serve as a construction assistant for the Bay-Waveland affiliate. She is enjoying every minute of life on the Gulf Coast and feels blessed to have this experience in her life.