Feature Story – Day 3

Day of transformation

The second full day of building produced some dramatic results Tuesday along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Houses transformed from stacks of walls and exposed trusses into distinctively recognizable homes with roofs, windows and doors. In Pascagoula, Christine Logan admired her new home-to-be. Photo by Steffan Hacker
Feature Story – Day 3 -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Catch the rhythm: Houses take shape as volunteers hit their stride

By Phillip Jordan

With a Gulf breeze keeping things relatively cool, volunteers at the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project settled into a regular work groove Tuesday after a day spent getting to know each other and the houses they are building.

At new construction sites in Pascagoula and Biloxi, roof decking appeared atop house frames, and windows and doors popped into place. Inside the homes, volunteers installed insulation after subcontractors put in ventilation units, electrical wiring and plumbing. And volunteers were delighted to discover their insulation was made of recycled cotton — not scratchy fiberglass. The cotton insulation was provided by The DOW Chemical Company.

“I’m in love,” said Stephanie Garman, 26, a volunteer from Phoenix working at 313 Huff Alley in Biloxi. “I haven’t used this before, but I’m so glad to have it. I hate leaving the job site itchy from that fiberglass.”

“Plus, you can’t do this with fiberglass,” said fellow volunteer Diane Weslowski, 22, as she bear-hugged a strip of soft cotton.

Answering the call

A second day of building also meant cutting crews were hard at work as volunteers worked to fully deck each roof so that shingling could begin. Brittani Martin spent much of her morning sawing in Biloxi at 313 Huff Alley.

Martin, 21, volunteers with the Habitat affiliate in New York City. “It’s been amazing to work here, because this is so much different than what we build in New York,” she said. “Up there we’re working on a 41-unit complex that is three stories high and has three buildings in it. It took us six months to do the metal framing, so it’s awesome to see everything here come together so quickly with this many volunteers working on each house.”

Of course, volunteers were on the roofs, too. In Pascagoula, at the corner of Richmond and Robertson, homeowner Christine Logan was still marveling that the day before she had climbed a ladder to hammer nails into a top corner.

“I’m afraid of heights,” she said. “This is my house, and I got up there and did it.” This morning, though, when her house leader asked for volunteers to get up on the roof, “I ain’t answering,” she laughed. “But I didn’t hear anybody else answering either.”

California volunteers Dorothy McDonald and Candy Robertson eventually responded to the call, taking turns on the top of an extension ladder and working for the first time with a pneumatic nail driver.

“We call ourselves Frick and Frack,” said McDonald, who volunteers two days a week back home in the office of Oakland’s Habitat for Humanity East Bay. “We have no experience, but we’ll try anything you ask us to try.”

Letting the love flow

In Gulfport, the sound of breaking glass punctuated the hammering and sawing in the Forest Heights neighborhood Tuesday as rehab crews kept to their ambitious schedule of replacing windows and doors, installing floors and painting all interiors in one week.

“We’re actually ahead of schedule,” said Stephen Madison, 21, a volunteer from Los Angeles who seemed to be the go-to handyman on the crew at Ike Thomas’s home on Holly Circle. “I’m like his apprentice,” Jarrett Hayes, a 33-year-old volunteer from Jacksonville, Florida, said of Madison.

Homeowner Thomas was on the site Tuesday morning, with paint spatters on his hat and shoes to show for his efforts. “Ike is real cool,” Hayes said. “We’ve been working side by side with him.”

Thomas and his wife, now deceased, were the first to move into the Forest Heights neighborhood when it was established in the late 1960s. He’s been staying with his granddaughter while rehab is done on his house. “They’re good people,” Thomas said of the volunteers working in his front yard. “I love them all.”

The love continued over at Biloxi’s Framing Frenzy site, too. Volunteers worked atop four different decks as they completed another dozen frames. And each time a frame was completed Tuesday at Deck No. 3, Air Force Master Sergeant Jimmie Rice was there to help load up the pieces on a flatbed truck and haul them to a nearby warehouse. Rice, 42, took a week of leave from Biloxi’s Keesler Air Force Base in order to volunteer during the week.

A 22-year-veteran of the Air Force who lives in nearby Ocean Springs, Rice lost much of his own home during a tornado spawned out of Hurricane Katrina. It took nine months for him to gut and rebuild. “We lost everything, but we were lucky,” Rice said. “I know that sounds weird, but you really understand it if you live around here.”

Reporting by Teresa K. Weaver, Shala Carlson and Phillip Jordan.