Feature Story – Day 2

'Batteries are included'

House leaders have an infinite array of motivational tools at their disposal, from doughnuts to loud music. "They come motivated," said Rob Collett, a neuro technician from Florida who’s overseeing the rehab of a house in Gulfport's Forest Heights neighborhood. "Batteries are included." Photos by Ezra Millstein
Feature Story – Day 2 -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Get motivated? House leaders say volunteers arrive with enthusiasm

By Teresa K. Weaver

Rob Collett, a neuro technician from Coconut Creek, Fla., has a tried-and-true method for motivating his team of volunteers at this year’s Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project.

“I turn the radio on really loud,” said Collett, house leader at the rehab of the Robert Johnson family’s house on Elm Street in Gulfport’s Forest Heights neighborhood. “And then I promise them stuff I’ll never actually give them.”

This is Collett’s sixth Carter Work Project. He’s overseeing a crew from Florida, Wisconsin—the “cheese boys,” he calls them—and elsewhere as they install new windows and doors, paint every room and finish out one of 30 homes in this subdivision that was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

As on most Habitat build sites, the first day is spent matching up volunteers of wildly varying skill levels to tasks they can handle.

“I’ve got to grade them, from stallions to ponies,” Collett said. “And we might even have a few thoroughbreds in there. But the trick is to give them jobs they’re not afraid of.”

In all seriousness, he said, the crews at a Carter Work Project need little motivation.

“Most of these volunteers are AmeriCorps,” he said. “They come motivated. Batteries are included.”

House leader Kim Coates, working at the rehab of Johnny and Irene Johnson’s home on nearby Holly Circle, agrees that AmeriCorps volunteers in particular don’t require much prodding on site.

When asked how she motivates her crew, one helpful member suggested, “Doughnuts!” Coates laughed and said, “Yeah, they’re good, but really all I have to do is remind everybody what we’re here for. Everybody is already motivated.”

This is Coates’ first time at a Carter Work Project, but it probably won’t be her last.

“It’s awesome to be a part of something so significant,” she said.

At the Diana Floyd family home on Holly Circle, co-house leaders Sarah Bellak and Kate Donahue, both from Dallas, Texas, are enthusiastic about overseeing a small crew of volunteers and don’t anticipate any problems keeping them energized and on task.

“They all came here with their own enthusiasm,” said Bellak.

“Everybody jumped on their tasks as soon as they got here,” Donahue added. “They were eager to get working.”

This is the second Carter Work Project for both Bellak and Donahue; they were volunteers at the build near Mumbai, India, two years ago.

“This is a very emotional thing to be a part of,” said Stephanie White, a Weaver Family Foundation volunteer from Jacksonville, Fla., who was painting with a passion in the front room of the Floyd family home. “To think you could put all these people together and get them to work so hard … it’s really very special.”

Teresa K. Weaver is senior writer/editor for Habitat for Humanity International, based in Atlanta.