A new landscape emerges in D.C.’s Ivy City -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

A new landscape emerges in D.C.’s Ivy City


Volunteers continue to raise walls on the second stories of the new houses being built in Washington, D.C.’s Ivy City neighborhood Wednesday, the third day of the 2010 Carter Work Project. ©Habitat for Humanity/Steffan Hacker


USA women’s hockey team member Kerry Weiland brought her 2010 Winter Olympics silver medal to the build site in Ivy City on Wednesday to show other volunteers. ©Habitat for Humanity/Steffan Hacker


Esther Chon (right) removes debris at one of the deconstruction projects in Ivy City. Chon, who is working with her father, Chang Chon, this week, had to wear a protective suit and breathing mask while removing lead-paint coated drywall from the site. ©Habitat for Humanity/Steffan Hacker

By Lara Moore and Teresa K. Weaver

The normal sounds of an urban neighborhood—cars and school buses and passing trains—pick up a new component when Habitat for Humanity moves in. The steady rap-rap of hammering, backed up by the shrill buzz of a power saw, represents a temporary change, as 250 volunteers become honorary citizens of Ivy City. But the result—12 new or rehabbed homes—will change this community for good.

“This is exactly where we need to be,” said Kent Adcock, president of Habitat for Humanity Washington, D.C., who surveyed the work Wednesday.

On the third day of the 27th Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project, the landscape of this community already is different in obvious ways. On slivers of previously vacant land, two-story duplexes are almost fully framed. Other houses that had been long neglected or abandoned now are nearly gutted, so that interiors can be completely redone. Huge Dumpsters sit on Providence Street, filled to the brim with rotten floorboards, dangerous drywall and rank carpets.

Trucks arrive daily with new lumber, energy-efficient brick and all the nails and rebar and other materials that go into reclaiming a neighborhood. Walls go up and barriers come down, to the steady beat of hammering.

Habitat picks up another champion

Kerry Weiland, a member of the silver-medal U.S. Olympic women’s ice hockey team in this year’s Winter Games, brings all the intensity she displays on the ice to the build site. With an infectious enthusiasm, she practically bounces from chore to chore, showing some genuine skill with a hammer.

Weiland grew up on a farm in Palmer, Alaska—population about 8,000—but lives and trains now in Toronto, Canada.

“I’m used to doing things with my hands, being outside, getting things done and being part of a team,” Weiland said Wednesday. “Whether you’re on a farm or a rink or a Habitat build site, it’s all about working together and knowing your role.”

Weiland worked on a Women Build blitz in Toronto about two years ago, and then deepened her involvement with Habitat for Humanity shortly after her team took home the silver in the Vancouver Olympics. The team was invited to Washington, D.C., to meet President Obama, the first lady and Vice President Joe Biden.

After all the high-profile congratulations, though, most of the Olympians stuck around to work on a Habitat house in northeast D.C. as part of the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Team for Tomorrow Humanitarian Fund. Since that experience, Weiland has committed herself to doing more and more with Habitat in the United States, Canada and wherever else she’s needed.

“Habitat’s an amazing organization that does great things,” Weiland said. “And it’s hands-on, so volunteers can see within an hour that they’ve made a difference already.”

Weiland, who had hip surgery in June, will turn 30 in a couple of weeks. That’s a transitional age for many people—including silver-medal athletes.

“I feel like I’m just coming into my own,” she said, smiling. “Now it’s a transition from being in the Olympics to deciding whether or not I’m going to train for the next Olympics, in 2014.”

The answer will depend on many factors, she said: physical, mental and emotional.

“I believe my heart may be moving on to different things,” she said. “I accomplished my dream. I lived it. And I had the most amazing time. But the Olympic stage has given me a way to come to places like this and bring my medal and share my experience and inspire others—and maybe bring more attention to the cause of affordable, decent housing.

“So I think in the future I might be spending less time on the ice and just trying to make a difference in the community.”

Spoken like a natural-born champion.

The family that volunteers together …

Esther Chon and her father, Chang Chon, spent Tuesday and much of Wednesday decked out head to toe in protective white suits, removing lead-paint drywall from a demolition site.

This was Esther Chon’s second Carter Work Project. Her father has volunteered in past projects in Thailand, Georgia, Korea and Vietnam.

“You really get to see everything work from the ground up,” Chon said of her Habitat experience. “To actually be able to do it and see the result is just a different kind of miracle.”

Just down the street, 88-year-old Harlan Bayer and his son, Eugene, a nimble 62, are working together on one of six new Habitat builds in D.C.’s Ivy City. The two owned a construction company together for many years, and Bayer is a veteran of 18 Carter Work Projects around the world. But this is the first project for his son.

Harlan Bayer’s only concession to age is that he no longer climbs onto roofs, leaving such duties to younger people. His son laughs when recalling how Dad used to keep him from doing dangerous things like scaling ladders and balancing on crossbeams. Now it’s up to the younger Bayer to keep the elder grounded.

“It’s kind of strange,” said Eugene Bayer. “We’ve reversed roles.”

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