JUNIOR LEAGUE OF HOUSTON
By Pat Curry
They were the first to admit they were the greenest of the green.
"I was so worried, I was nauseous the week before," says Lou Ann Haddock-Timreck. "We didn't even know the names of the tools."
Their house leader, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., architect Mary Lou Bowman, shared their concern. "Pray," she told other veteran volunteers. "Pray lots."
Equally serious, given the extreme heat and the need to consume massive amounts of water, was the fact that none--not one--of the 71 women on the three Junior League of Houston crews had ever stepped foot inside a portable toilet.
"A port-a-let is not an evil thing," Bowman told them at orientation. "You must use the port-a-let."
Given the mandate, the troops made the best of things. The Junior League house had the only port-a-let on the site equipped with a wicker basket, complete with toilet paper, Lysol crisp linen scent air freshener, anti-bacterial hand wash, and a Clinique mirror.
With inexperience came some valuable qualities. A person who is willing to admit she doesn't know what she's doing is ready and eager to be taught. There were no egos to bruise. They weren't afraid to ask for help when they needed it, and accepted it graciously and gladly when it was offered.
And they brought with them valuable abilities acquired through Junior League membership. They worked well as a team, were accustomed to dividing large projects into manageable tasks, and could be counted on to follow through with their assignments.
"Rev. Shirl asked us, 'Will people show up?'" says Athena Noal, the Habitat chair for Junior League of Houston, recalling the first JCWP meeting between the League and Houston HFH executive director Rev. Mike Shirl. "I told him, 'I guarantee you that every woman who signs up will show up.' I'm not sure there was any other organization that had every member of the crew spend 35 to 40 pre-build hours at the warehouse. They can rely on us."
The affiliate has relied on the Junior League for about eight years, and when the JCWP organizers needed a person to head up volunteer support services--basically the care and feeding of 6,000 volunteers--they turned to League sustaining member Becky Neuhaus. Each of the 3,000 members is required to perform 72 hours of community service per year through League placements, as well as helping with fund raising for the organization's charitable efforts. (The crews working on the JCWP house fulfilled a year's worth of placement hours.)
All told, the League assists 33 Houston-area agencies working in children's art, education enrichment, family preservation, health and well-being, and neighborhood outreach. Habitat has had steady help from members, most notably on family selection and nurturing.
"They provide a great support to us internally in the office and in construction areas," says Kevin White, Houston HFH assistant executive director. "About 25 to 35 percent of selection and nurturing committee members are Junior Leaguers. We have a constant flow of Junior League members."
And while the League had sponsored two other houses and members worked weekends with their husbands and friends, the JCWP was their first blitz house, and their first built solely by members of the League.
"Many of these women have never swung a hammer, been on a roof or gotten this dirty," Noal says. "The people on selection saw poverty housing for the first time. It made a difference and raised awareness."
Sheri Reade was one of a small number of crew members who worked the entire week. Her job, in addition to helping with the construction, was to be homeowner Jackie Peterson's partner through the emotional roller coaster of a blitz build.
"She has four kids, I have four kids," Reade says. "She's doing it on her own. We can empathize. On the surface, we seem different, but we're not very different. ...Only God determines who's going to have opportunities through your birth. If you can help, and you don't, it's a sin. If you've been given gifts from the Lord, it's a sin not to use them."
The members of the crews took all the gifts they'd been given, and all the help they could get. They fell behind on the first day of construction "because we were perfectionists," Haddock-Timreck says. "We've learned to say, 'Help.' You can't fake it. You have to do it right."
Despite being behind, the crew finished Monday excited and energized.
"No one was crabby, no one was in bad moods," reports stay-at-home mom Gina Howell.
"I thought I'd come home and be a whiner and cry and need to be pampered," she says. "I didn't. I went to Home Depot and bought a hammer. I had a wimpy hammer."
By Wednesday--the halfway point of the build--the Junior League house was so far ahead of schedule, Bowman was loaning crew members to other house leaders. "People have been so helpful to us," she says. "We're glad we can return the favor."
Friday afternoon's dedication was a model of League efficiency. Cases of drinks arrived, followed by coolers of ice, boxes of cookies and pre-printed programs. Women who had been splattered with paint earlier in the week were smartly dressed.
"We're not sweaty," Haddock-Timreck says. "We're dewy."
As is often the case with Habitat, the build--and the pre-build hours in the warehouse--provided an opportunity for people to grow and learn, both about themselves and others.
Reade noted with pride that she had asked for a power saw for Mother's Day. "It's pretty cool," she says. "I already used it. I cut a window in the kids' playhouse. I didn't know how to make them right." "Now you do," Howell says.
Bowman included herself among those who came away with a new attitude. "People who were afraid of ladders are asking when they can roof again," she said midweek. "A woman who had never used a hammer is running a power saw."
At the dedication, she adds, "You girls have changed my view of the Junior League. It's been an amazing experience."
"The perception is that we're women who dress up in nice clothes," Noal says, acknowledging the League's reputation as a service club for wealthy housewives. "The membership is changing. We have attorneys, architects, doctors, the whole gamut. We're here to help the community by financial support and providing volunteers. Once people got involved (with Habitat), they wanted to come back. We'd love to build a house a year. We have so many more people saying we can do this."
John and Belvin Richard
"We've got ourselves a blessing," says Belvin Richard of the Habitat house under construction.
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Wade and Shalina Gibson
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The former U.S. President and First Lady have led the Habitat build bearing their name every year since 1984.
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