Volunteers --Living and breathing Habitat -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Volunteers --Living and breathing Habitat

Holly Eaton (yellow shirt), briefs the Women Build team before the days work begins.


Shortly after sunrise on Monday morning, Holly Eaton – wearing a hard hat that read “Habitat Holly” – gathered her female construction crew around a work table and summed up the soul and the spirit of the annual event known as the Jimmy Carter Work Project.

“Don’t expect a well-oiled machine,” she said. “At the end of the week, you’ll wonder how it all came together. But it will all come together.”

More than 750 volunteers from all over the world have converged on two sites in Los Angeles – one on Vermont Avenue and one in San Pedro – to finish building 30 houses in five days. Hundreds more volunteers are fanning out to repair and rehabilitate even more homes in the neighborhoods surrounding the construction sites, in a program called A Brush With Kindness.

The JCWP, now in its 24th year, is something of a daily miracle – a perfect storm of seasoned professionals and fresh-faced newcomers, teenagers and retirees, skilled craftsmen and power-tool rookies. There is an exuberant sense of reunion at the job sites, as people wearing T-shirts or hats from previous JCWPs spot each other and reconnect, asking about family and friends and everything that has happened since the last build.

JCWP is not a well-oiled machine; it is a living and breathing spectacle. And every volunteer has a story worth celebrating. Meet just a few:

Holly Eaton
, an attorney, runs the pro bono department of the law school at Georgetown University. She has been a volunteer for 15 JCWPs, and a house leader for 12. “It’s a great chance to see friends I’ve made from year to year,” she said. “And it’s been an excuse to accumulate a really nice set of tools.” This year, Eaton’s younger sister, Hillary, is a crew member for the first time. “Like all first-timers, she keeps worrying about making a mistake,” Holly said. “But like all of them, she’s doing fine, learning it all as she goes.”

Nurses at JCWP, dressed in bright red T-shirts and hard hats, were treating minor injuries before the First Aid tents were completely set up Monday morning. Like other JCWP work crews, they are a mix of seasoned volunteers and first-timers. Suzanne Del Signore is the new nurse this year. She lives nearby in Huntington Beach and works as an occupational nurse for Teroso Corp. in Wilmington. She has already met Jimmy Carter. “He shook my hand,” she said, “and I told him I was a nurse. He said, ‘My mother was a nurse.’ It just felt really special.”

JCWP veteran Sandra Strassner was standing in front of a Sparkletts water cooler in the First Aid tent at the San Pedro construction site when she told her favorite JCWP story. Her first work project was in Houston, which is also her home. “It was 106 in the shade on the first day,” she said. “We ran out of water.” She called a neighborhood Kroger, which in turn called Sparkletts. An executive at Sparkletts agreed to provide water but didn’t have a truck available to deliver it, and so, Kroger provided a truck to deliver “a field full of water.” Strassner and Sparkletts have been at every Jimmy Carter Work Project since.

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Ellen Bartz
, a prison nurse in Lawrence, Kan., traveled solo to Los Angeles to participate in her second Jimmy Carter Work Project. “I always liked traveling alone,” Bartz said. “It’s really the only way to meet people.” Her experiences with Habitat have reinforced that preference. She volunteered on a Habitat build in Mozambique in 2005 and then signed up for last year’s JCWP in Lonavala, India. Both previous trips forced her to make new friends and to learn new skills, including making and laying blocks. “I don’t think I will be doing that this time,” she said. “Can’t wait to see what ‘that’ will be.”

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“These are the final chapters of my life, and I want to do things that matter.”
-- Irving Hall


Irving Hall
, 74, faced some big decisions when he retired in 1994. “The one question I remember the most is the one my boss’s boss asked me,” Hall said. “He asked, ‘So, what are you going to do now? Are you going to do something that makes a difference?’ This is what I’m doing to make a difference.” Hall and his wife, who live in Albuquerque, N.M., first got involved with Habitat through their church. “I raised my hand to help, and my life hasn’t been the same since,” he said. This year is Hall’s seventh JCWP; he and his wife also have sponsored dozens of houses around the world, including 100 in Guatemala they’re determined to see built within three years. “I don’t know how many years I have left,” Hall said. “These are the final chapters of my life, and I want to do things that matter.”

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Peter Anderson
is one of four staffers at Habitat for Humanity Northern Ireland to be pitching in at the San Pedro site. He first volunteered with Habitat in 1996 in Hungary, where he met his future wife. Two years later he started working full-time for Habitat. Last year his wife volunteered at JCWP in India, but she’s sitting out this year, for a very good reason: The couple’s first child is due in six weeks.

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A white ponytail peeks out from the back of Jack Evans’ Habitat hard hat as he greets his crew members at the Vermont Avenue construction site, where he’s a house leader for his eighth JCWP. Back home in Decatur, Ga., he has volunteered for Habitat for Humanity Atlanta, as well as with the affiliates in DeKalb County and North Fulton County. Working with the volunteers is the most fun he has, he said. “Where else do you spend your Saturdays?” he calls back over his shoulder, hurrying to help someone with a question about the fit of a door frame.

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Amid the cacophony of hammers and saws, Kathy Casey patrols the grounds of the San Pedro construction site, picking up nails, water bottles and wood scraps. “If I’m assigned to refuse removal, I’m going to be the BEST at refuse removal,” she said. Casey, a software consultant, and her husband worked on several Habitat homes in Seattle, where they lived before relocating to San Diego a couple of years ago. “We’re kind of modern-day Robin Hoods,” she said. “We work for big corporations and then spend our energy giving it away to good programs like Habitat – programs that help people help themselves.”

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Friends Barb Bridges and Mary Lynn Parodi traveled together from Oregon for JCWP 2007 in Los Angeles. On Monday morning, they worked side by side, wiping down doors and windows, prepping them for painting. “I just love helping people,” Bridges said with a shrug and a smile. This year marks Bridge’s fourth JCWP and Parodi’s eighth. Both focus their Habitat involvement on JCWP, saving their money all year in anticipation of the trip. “I love meeting new people and being of service,” Parodi said. “It’s a mission.”

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Dave Meyer
is volunteering as part of JCWP 2007’s A Brush With Kindness, one of hundreds of volunteers fanning out in the neighborhoods surrounding the new construction sites to complete house repair and rehabilitation projects. “The spirit of cooperation on JCWP is about as high as you will find,” Meyer said. “People just get along and get it done.”

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Sonya Park
, an 18-year-old high school student from New Zealand, was one of the youngest people on the San Pedro construction site on Monday. She painted feverishly in an upstairs laundry room, barely stopping to answer questions about how she got involved with Habitat. “I had always wanted to,” she said. “So I signed up as soon as I turned 18.” And how has her first experience been so far? “It’s harder than I thought it would be,” she said with a laugh.

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Kerry-Ann Parsons
traveled to Los Angeles from South Florida with a group of 10 regular volunteers from her local Habitat affiliate. She started volunteering with Habitat in 2004 at the urging of a friend and now she is a volunteer leader with Habitat for Humanity of Broward in Fort Lauderdale. Although she has been on many Habitat builds, this is her first trip out of state to build houses. “It’s great to see so many people from so many places,” she says. When she is not on the build site, she sells air conditioners for Trane.

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As safety manager, volunteer Clarence Fung is responsible for keeping the Vermont build site accident-free this week. Clarence first got involved with Habitat through his church and now is part of a group of retirees called the “Rusty Nails” who volunteer regularly with Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles. A veteran of the aerospace industry, Fung said Habitat service appeals to him because it provides instant gratification after a day’s work. “At the end of the day you can say, ‘I built that,’ ” he said.

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Bette Goldenring
of Ventura, Calif., started volunteering with Habitat for Humanity more than a decade ago. In that time, she has helped build Habitat homes in Hungary, Kyrgyzstan, Portugal, and on an American-Indian reservation in South Dakota. “In the Jewish culture, we’re taught that to be a righteous person you have to offer people dignity and justice,” she said. “I think Habitat is the total personification of those two qualities.”