Making a tangible difference

By Soyia Ellison, Habitat for Humanity International copywriting services manager and volunteer caravan driver

While I was standing in the parking lot of a Virginia rest area Tuesday morning, stretching my legs alongside fellow travelers in our caravan to Sandy-ravaged New Jersey, a trucker rolled past and gave us a long honk and a friendly wave. He’d seen the line of vans decked out in Habitat for Humanity logos and wanted to add his smile to the many others we’ve received on our journey.

With our bright blue jackets and hats, we attract quite a bit of attention at stops. “Another one!” a boy of about 12 exclaimed with a smile when he saw me outside a restaurant, then stopped to hold open the door.

Help Habitat provide greater stability for more families in need.

“Are you guys working on a project?” a man in a hotel elevator asked. When I explained that we were driving 24 vans loaded with tools to New York and New Jersey to help families whose homes were damaged by the storm, he offered his thanks.

When people hear where I work, their eyes widen slightly. They smile, or nod. Almost always they tell me that they or someone they know has served as a Habitat volunteer. “My daughter … My neighbor … My hairdresser … did some building and loved it.”

Habitat volunteers appreciate feeling like they’ve made a tangible difference in someone’s life. That’s why this group of more than 70 rode nearly 900 miles in these vans on Monday and Tuesday. They want to help.

Our small sacrifices mean little in light of the reason for this trip: the thousands of families whose homes were damaged or destroyed. We’ll meet some of them Wednesday when we travel to Union Beach, New Jersey, and Staten Island, New York, to hang sheetrock, replace drywall, install insulation — whatever we can do in a couple of days to start to make houses livable again.

And as we work, we’ll remember a moment from Tuesday’s drive. As we crossed the Virginia mountains, the rain temporarily stopped and we were treated to the sight of one of the most beautiful rainbows I’ve ever seen. What more could you ask for on a trip like this than a symbol of new beginnings — of hope after a flood?

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