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“Neighbors Helping Neighbors”

Affiliate Spotlight: Habitat Cape Cod construction sites create community

Words by Dawn Walnut

Photo by Habitat Cape Cod

Published on Mar. 18, 2013

Here at Habitat Cape Cod, we consider all our builds to be neighbors helping neighbors, since the builds are completed by community volunteers. But in some cases, volunteers actually live in the very neighborhood where a new home is under construction.

Teena and Brian Tilton, who live right next door to our current build on Sandy Meadow Way in Eastham, were pleased that a Habitat home would be bringing new children into their neighborhood.

The Tiltons have a daughter the same age as one of the girls who will move into the home this spring, and they are already carpooling. The couple owns a building inspection business and know how expensive homes can be on Cape Cod — and how hard that can be for families.

Teena is particularly impressed by the skills her new neighbor Pira is learning. “It has got to be a very empowering thing to do. Not only is Pira providing for her family, she’s building a house for her family. And her daughters are seeing that she can do that.”

Brian ran an electric line from their house to help power the tools at Sandy Meadow Way. The Tiltons also allowed the crew to refill water bottles at their house and use the bathroom. “There’s a window on the side of our house where the guys come to fill up water,” Teena says. “When my family comes together to do a project, they go in five directions at one. I thought that with 50 volunteers getting together, it would be crazy. I’m impressed by how organized it all is.”

Gilbert Merritt was no stranger to Habitat’s work when he learned that a Habitat home was going to be built around the corner from his house in Orleans. He had worked on a Habitat build two years earlier and was pleased that a Habitat home would be filling that empty lot. A neighborhood, Gilbert believes, needs “a balance of old folks looking after young people and young people looking after old folks and people riding bikes and walking out in the street.

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“In our neighborhood, people are getting older and spending more time in Florida, so there is less activity,” he says. “Having a family with a child is an asset — they become part of the fabric of the community.”

Gilbert enjoyed the work itself — and especially enjoyed getting to know the men and women who volunteer for Habitat. One of the special features of a Habitat build, he notes, is that “when you do something wrong, no one gets hollered at, you just work together to fix it.” Like the Tiltons, Gilbert discovered that living in the neighborhood meant he could provide extra help; from time to time, he found himself running home for tools, and he ran a hose from his backyard to help supply water to the site. Even better than all of that was getting to know Christina, the homeowner and his new neighbor. They keep in touch and “still have meals back and forth.”

Donna Mahan and Carol Bishop are the closest neighbors to our Habitat home on Yellow Brick Road in Truro. Both had always been interested in volunteering for Habitat, so when the house was going to be in their backyard — literally — they knew this was the time. Not everyone enjoys having a construction site right next to them, but Donna and Carol say the experience has been “terrific.”

Donna, a glass artist with a studio in her home, says she can’t wait to have her new neighbor Melissa and her kids creating art in her studio. Carol is looking forward to seeing the children grow up so nearby. Their house is a short walk from the Truro library and a community playground that Carol and Donna also helped build. They have already made plans for Melissa’s kids to use their backyard as a shortcut to the library or playground.

When asked what special experience they remember about this build, it is the house blessing ceremony that comes to mind. “Seeing Melissa, her children, parents, friends and many other children was very moving. The warmth and love experienced during the blessing brought tears of joy to our eyes.”

A version of this essay originally appeared in a Habitat Cape Cod e-newsletter.