A Time to Teach

Mike Giger knows that every hour he spends on a Habitat for Humanity St. Louis build site keeps the project moving forward.

Whether he’s building or teaching others to build, his time moves a family closer to a simple, decent affordable home of their own — and a neighborhood closer to revitalization and stability.

Building and renovating homes seems a natural fit for someone who’s spent his life building and renovating homes, from working with the Peace Corps in Brazil to revitalizing apartment buildings and reviving neighborhoods in St. Louis. That’s why a friend suggested Giger look into volunteering with Habitat when he retired in 2000. He’s been involved two or three days of every week ever since and even spent a whole week working on the Gulf Coast during the 2008 Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project.

That may seem like a lot of time to some, but Giger downplays it. “I really do not enjoy sitting around or playing golf,” he explains. “I’m in good health, and I have plenty of time for myself and other activities besides Habitat.” On top of that, he adds with a laugh, “It keeps me out of trouble.”

Giger spends one or two days during each week working with up to a dozen other retirees and experienced volunteers who “cut and saw and hammer and build.” Able to work quickly and efficiently, these seasoned crews spend their hours preparing the sites for Saturday’s influx of eager, but often less experienced volunteers.

“They’re anxious to get to the job quickly and have something exciting to do,” he explains, “but it’s amazing how dangerous the job site can be with folks who are motivated, in a big hurry and not paying attention.” That’s why he slows people down and ensures they understand the correct ways to work before the time comes to actually cut and hammer or climb a ladder.

He says he thoroughly enjoys seeing a volunteer progress as the day goes on. “When they do figure out how to use a hammer, that’s always a victory When they hammer the nails in without bending them too many times, that’s one,” he says.

Giger’s ultimate goal is to turn that new volunteer into a returning volunteer, one with experience who can help construction move along. With that in mind, he encourages every person to take a little time with each tool and task, to find something they really like doing.

“Most volunteers who show up are willing to do whatever needs to be done,” he says. “And that’s kind of the way I feel anyway — if they want me to shovel dirt today, I’ll shovel dirt. Whatever needs to be done to keep the project moving ahead.”

And even if he needs a little ibuprofen at the end of the day, Mike Giger will keep moving ahead, turning hours into houses.

Megan Frank