Partners and signs of progress on Jefferson Street -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Partners and signs of progress on Jefferson Street


AmeriCorps members Daniel Wolfe (from left), Christina Southall and Philip Taylor carry particle board during work in Baltimore. ©Habitat for Humanity/Gregg Pachkowski

By Susan Dunn-Lisuzzo

General volunteers took a break on Jefferson Street in Baltimore, Maryland, on Thursday, as construction staff members and crew leaders for the Carter Work Project assessed the progress of the past two days and readied the site for the hundreds of volunteers who will descend on the neighborhood Friday and Saturday.

There was plenty of activity, though. While affiliate staff members went about the tasks of assessing and restocking materials, two partner nonprofit organizations were at work on Jefferson Street, getting ready for a beautification project. On Saturday, Civic Works, Parks and People Foundation, neighborhood residents and other local partners will work with about 300 volunteers to spruce up the neighborhood.

Civic Works, whose mission, according to its website, is “to build a future for Baltimore’s youth through community service and skills development,” was painting the exterior of a home on the northwest corner of the street.

In preparation for Saturday, Parks and People Foundation was cutting out large swaths of concrete so trees and flowers can be planted by volunteers. It is not easy to cut through and disassemble concrete, nor is it a quiet task.

Asked if all the noise this week was bothering her, a neighborhood resident responded, “No, it is a sign of progress.”

Commitment and a year of service

Two others hard at work on Jefferson Street were Christina Southall and Philip Taylor, AmeriCorps members serving with Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake. Both grew up in the Baltimore area and went to school at Morgan State University.

“Working here is a perfect fit for me,” said Southall, who has an architecture and environmental design degree, “especially with the affiliate building Energy Star homes now. People don’t think affordable housing can be built sustainably, but we do it here every day.”

Taylor, who grew up outside of Baltimore, wasn’t used to seeing vacant and abandoned buildings in neighborhoods. “When I attended college, I was surprised by what I saw. It overwhelmed me and made me want to leave.”

What lured Taylor back to the urban environment? “Owning a home really changes a community, and building a community is what brought me back,” he said.

Finding your life’s mission

Carol Suzdak, who learned about Habitat through a Web search six years ago, is now a fixture at the Habitat work site on Jefferson Street. Starting her volunteer experience with half a day a week at the affiliate office, she now devotes 3½ days a week to Habitat.

When asked how she became a crew leader, Suzdak explained: “I was on site so often the affiliate put all the new volunteers with me.” Becoming a crew leader was the logical evolution.

Those lucky enough to work with Suzdak learn more than construction skills when working on a home. As an office volunteer who was willing to support the affiliate with whatever was needed, she became very knowledgeable about Habitat and how it operates.

Nine trips to the Gulf Coast to rebuild after hurricanes Katrina and Rita can be added to her list of accomplishments. While she has yet to participate in a Global Village trip, she hopes to in the near future.

“Everybody who knows me knows I’ve found my mission,” Suzdak said.

Susan Dunn-Lisuzzo is national communications manager for Habitat for Humanity International.