Daily Diary – Day 4

Heart, soul and Habititus

Volunteers come with goals and generosity. Ajay Bhatt, 28, wants to learn everything he can about Habitat. "I want to be able to go back and help nonprofits become more efficient, but still be able to keep their heart and soul, too. Habitat is good about that balance." Photo by Angel Pachkowski
Daily Diary – Day 4 -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Taking it back home

Biloxi –
Ajay Bhatt, 28, spent Wednesday hammering shingles into the roof at 325 Huff Alley. This isn’t his first Habitat experience, though. Almost two years ago, Bhatt moved from Udaipur, India, to Durham, N.C., where he works as a full-time volunteer with HFH Durham. “I moved because I wanted to learn about how Habitat works here,” Bhatt said.

It’s not just idle curiosity. Bhatt has worked at a variety of housing-related nonprofits over the past seven years and plans to help housing programs when he moves back to India this July. “I want to take ideas back home,” he said. “I have traveled around India a lot, and I know the country well. There are lots of different experiments with housing there, especially with energy-efficient designs.”

Of course, it’s not just the construction expertise he is trying to learn while working with Habitat. “This has been rewarding, but I want to learn the business side, too,” Bhatt said. “I want to be able to go back and help nonprofits become more efficient, but still be able to keep their heart and soul, too. Habitat is good about that balance.”—Phillip Jordan

Catch it if you can
—Jessica Goldfin, a 23-year-old first-time Habitat volunteer from Miami, Fla., was well warned about the infectious enthusiasm that runs rampant at the Carter project. But still she succumbed.

“I’ve got Habititis,” she said, shrugging her shoulders. Her first time volunteering won’t be her last. — Teresa K. Weaver

Write man for the job
Habitat World essay contest winner Kraig Koschnick has spent most of the week up on the roof of a Habitat house, and he couldn’t be happier. “I really didn’t sleep Sunday night,” he said. “I was too excited.”

So far this week, the Bozeman, Mont., resident has worked alongside Sen. John Edwards, musicians Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, former President Jimmy Carter — and a group of longtime volunteers that he says really know their way around a work site and have taken the first-time Habitat volunteer under their wings.

The Iraqi war veteran and former National Guard combat medic is particularly pleased to be part of rebuilding in the Gulf. “It’s easy to get bombarded by TV news when an event like the hurricane happens,” he said. “But then it becomes, ‘What’s next?’ People move on to the next story. I was certainly guilty of that.”

A recent trip to New Orleans with his family, however, reminded him of how much needed to be done. “Here at home, there is a lot of work to do,” he said. — Shala Carlson

Let’s keep it going
—Hank and Peggy DeSandre, Red Cross volunteers at the Forest Heights rehab project in Gulfport, moved from Chicago to southern Mississippi in 2004 and lost everything they owned when Hurricane Katrina washed their house away a year later. “We didn’t even have debris to clean up,” said Peggy. Both DeSandres devote all their time to recovery efforts now in their adopted hometown. “The Carter Project is great because it’s generating all this new enthusiasm for rebuilding,” said Hank. “Let’s just hope the enthusiasm doesn’t die down when this week is over. It needs to go on and on.” — Teresa K. Weaver

Could do this blindfolded
Framing Frenzy, Biloxi
– There was a good reason Leah McCarrick, Peter Kiley and Tim Block were all walking around with blow-up fish Wednesday. They won them at the Framing Frenzy’s very unofficial “Blindfolded Hammering Contest.” The trio each deftly nailed three nails into studs, sans eyesight, in an 8-foot wall quicker than anyone else.

Block, 42, is the manager of The Home Depot Foundation’s affordable housing program. “It was fun to break up the day,” he said.

The competition came one day after the Framing Frenzy volunteers had a one-handed nailing competition. Rumor has it that tomorrow’s schedule will include a full house-framing competition between the four deck crews. — Phillip Jordan

Reaching the roof
— Volunteer Paula Ellis of Miami, Fla., has been conducting an experiment since the roof went up on the Habitat house where she is volunteering this week: what’s the easiest beverage to toss up to her fellow workers? “I do better with the Gatorade,” she said, after a few failed attempts to get a water bottle up to the roof. “Gatorade has a better throw weight.” — Shala Carlson

New Orleans builds in the news
New Orleans
—The Times-Picayune featured a story about former President Jimmy Carter’s time spent building in the city’s Ninth Ward. Volunteers working with New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity hope to construct more than 90 houses this year with the Carter Work Project.

Carter drove home the goal of this year’s event – both to build new homes and to raise awareness about the housing needs that still exist along the Gulf Coast. Carter also emphasized how some of the most basic rights must still be addressed in this region. The newspaper added this quote from Carter: “The right to eat and have clothing to wear and to have a home in which to live. I’d say when people don’t have a home because of devastation or because of extreme poverty, that’s the most important right.”

Helping out home
—Jennifer Hebert hasn’t lived on the Gulf Coast since she was a girl, but her first home was in Lafayette, La., and one of her parents is from New Orleans. “I watched the hurricanes happening on TV,” said the South Florida resident, “and I saw the devastation happening to my people. I’m a city girl, but I had to come out here, come back home, to do my part.” — Shala Carlson

Help begins at home?
—On the construction site of the new home for the LaKenya Wilson family, uber-volunteer Jimmy Summerell from Raleigh, N.C., is such a frequent laborer on Habitat sites that his wife has threatened to put a Habitat sign in their front yard so he’ll do some work around their own house.

Summerell taught school for 27 years before retiring and leading groups from his church, Edenton Street United Methodist Church, to build sites worldwide. — Teresa K. Weaver

Sitting on a porch
Christine Logan has been on site every day this week, blending in well with a bustling construction crew made up largely of women. She seems most excited about the wide front porch. “I can put my rocking chairs on one side and sit out here with my grandson when it’s cool,” she said. Her grandson inspired the nickname of one crew member, whom Logan refers to simply as “Bob the Builder.” Logan was tossing bottled water up to “Bob” and other crew members on the roof, using a call-and-answer routine to inspire the workers. She would yell: “Can we build it?” and “Bob” would answer: “Yes, we can!” — Sandy Weaver, Teresa K. Weaver

A surprise for Overdear
—Pete High, an AmeriCorps volunteer from East Bay, Calif., was nearly covered in off-white paint by midday at the home of Overdear Norwood on Holly Circle. A first-timer at a Carter Project, High said he likes everything about the experience so far, with one big exception: “I don’t like to get up early,” he said, smiling apologetically.

A crewmate, Jennifer Knoeber of Dallas, Texas, is participating in her second Carter Project, having worked at a build in Aniston, Ala., in 2003. Though disappointed that the crew hasn’t had much opportunity to get to know the homeowner, who is disabled and can’t get around on a build site, Knoeber said she’s excited to think about what it will be like for Norwood to come into a newly refurbished home. “It’ll be such a great surprise,” Knoeber said. “To come home to a new place … that will be a great surprise.” — Teresa K. Weaver

The hotbox
– Roofing isn’t the only hot job. Crews of twos and threes worked at each house to put insulation in the attics – a job that left volunteers sweating through their t-shirts. Pilar Guzman Zavala, 29; Camila Domonoske, 19, and Julie Brooks, 40, handled the attic insulation at 607 Roy Street Wednesday. The trio earned the sobriquet, “The Attic Elves” for their ability to navigate the tight space.

Zavala and Brooks are both employees of the Knight Foundation, this year’s platinum sponsor for the Carter Work Project. “We’re getting a workout up there,” Brooks said. She described the tightrope walking they have to do to avoid stepping on the drywall, and to navigate the beams as some “quality gymnastics exercise.”

“The guys on the roof think they have it tough in the sun, but at least they get the breeze,” Domonoske said. “And they’re the ones driving the nails through the roof while they’re shingling. I’m glad we’ve got the hard hats today!” — Phillip Jordan

Meet the writers who are covering this year’s Carter Work Project. See their bios at the bottom of this page.