New skills take shape along with houses in D.C. -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

New skills take shape along with houses in D.C.


Tim Butler and Scott Hegstrom, volunteers from Whirlpool, work together on Day Two of the Carter Work Project in the Ivy City neighborhood of Washington, D.C. ©Habitat for Humanity/Steffan Hacker


Women Build house leader Holly Eaton instructs Kerry Weiland, of the Olympic silver medal-winning USA women's hockey team, on one of the rehab projects in Ivy City. ©Habitat for Humanity/Steffan Hacker


Future homeowner Andargachew Negash works on his Habitat house in Ivy City. Negash and his wife, Bezawork Bedane, are taking turns building and watching their children at home.©Habitat for Humanity/Steffan Hacker

By Lara Moore and Teresa K. Weaver

Under cloudy skies—but no rain—volunteer crews on six new builds and six rehabs were right on schedule Tuesday, Day Two of the 2010 Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project in Washington, D.C.

By midday, walls were up, neatly defining the new duplexes that will become homes to families in D.C.’s historic Ivy City neighborhood. Roof beams were in place on the new builds, and staircases were installed.

On the next block, interior demolition was almost complete at the older houses. Volunteers were suited up in white coveralls, booties and face masks, taking no health risks while tearing out 40-year-old walls covered with lead paint.

Crews at all 12 build sites have fallen into a rhythm, as volunteers old and new alike discover their latent talents at hammering, measuring or sawing.

Good neighbors from Gallaudet

Among the crew at the Women Build house on Tuesday were eight students from Gallaudet University, along with three interpreters who were doing their best to translate rapid-fire construction terms into sign language.

Gallaudet is an important part of the Ivy City area. Founded in 1864 by an act of Congress—with its charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln—Gallaudet is the only university in the world in which all programs and services are designed to accommodate hearing-impaired students. With nearly 2,000 students, it is a dominant presence and a major employer in this largely industrial neighborhood.

“It’s great having the Gallaudet students here,” said Holly Eaton, assistant house leader at the Women Build site. “They’re very enthusiastic.”

Communication has not been a major problem, said Eaton, a Carter Work Project veteran who runs the pro bono programs at D.C.’s Georgetown University.

“You realize how much you normally shout things—“A little bit to the left, or a little to the right”—without looking at anybody,” Eaton said. “And you can’t do that now. You have to pay more attention.

“A lot of what we do is really showing people how to do something,” she added. “I’ll show where to put a nail or how to hammer it—or if it starts going crooked, how to fix it. In that respect, this crew is no different than any other.”

Paula Dupont, a first-year graduate student at Gallaudet in social work, was enjoying her first Carter Work Project.

“After Hurricane Katrina, I went down to New Orleans and helped build some houses and clean things up,” Dupont, 31, signed to her interpreter. “That really touched me. I really wanted to start doing more for Habitat.”

Scheduling was difficult to coordinate with an interpreter, though, and Dupont was reluctant to try to learn construction skills without some way of communicating on a build site.

“I really wanted to understand what was going on,” she signed, smiling. “If I didn’t understand what was going on, I was afraid I would destroy something.”

Now that she’s pretty sure she won’t do any damage, she vows to continue volunteering with Habitat.

“I enjoy working with my hands,” she signed before picking up a hammer and getting back to building.

Taking turns, building a future

Andargachew Negash, a part-time taxicab driver and full-time chemistry student, found time Tuesday to put in some sweat equity on his family’s new home in Ivy City. He and his wife, Bezawork Bedane, are alternating building duties with child care back home.

“My wife was here yesterday,” Negash said. “She told me how wonderful it was, and I had to come and see for myself.”

Negash and Bedane, who works as a home health-care aide, have three children: daughters Loredana, 12, and Meron, 4; and son Samuel, 3. They have been living in cramped quarters in a crime-ridden neighborhood, working toward owning a Habitat home.

“Getting to meet all these people who are building our home is wonderful,” Negash said. “It’s just wonderful.”

‘Building a little community here’

On the second day of construction on Providence Street, 66-year-old Jeannette Swanson stood in the front yard of the home where she has lived for nearly four decades. She was proudly clutching a copy of the morning newspaper, which featured a photograph of former President Jimmy Carter helping to build a house on her block as part of the 27th Carter Work Project.

“I’ve been here 36 years,” Swanson said. “I see things go up and down, up and down. Now I see good things coming. We’re building a little community here.”

Lara Moore and Teresa K. Weaver are writer/editors for Habitat for Humanity International.