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Lifelong service goes beyond one build week

Last day on the Milwaukee Build-a-Thon 2012 build site
By Hanna Gichard

Today was our last full day of work for Milwaukee Build-a-Thon 2012. Our houses are now two-story structures with walls, windows, stairs and even some siding. In the past four days I have hammered, raised walls, caulked and put up siding.

Seeing the progress of our house and what we have built together made me think about the whole process of building a Habitat home. One of my fellow AmeriCorps members remarked this week, “This is an actual house that a family is going to live in.”

What if we played the whole process in reverse? A family will have a life in that house, growing up and building memories and security, and all of that rewinds back to a bunch of marked-up lumber and OSB sheets, thousands of feet of tape, pieces of siding that had to be hung, taken down and rehung before they looked alright, and miles of tape measurements. Amid all of that, I was one overwhelmed construction novice who had to try over and over to get things right. I’m no expert now, but I am still trying.

On Wednesday morning, Brian Sonderman, executive director of Milwaukee Habitat, led devotions centered on the idea of perseverance. None of us can just write one check or sweat out one volunteer day or serve one year of AmeriCorps and think our job is done. It takes more. It takes perseverance to bring about real change and to take on the housing issues facing our community and our world.

I felt as though his message applied to my Build-a-Thon experience. I, too, needed perseverance to keep coming out to the site each day, even when I felt slow and useless and incompetent at times. I could make a difference on this house if I kept trying and kept doing my best. My small perseverance story has helped me better understand the large-scale perseverance our executive director was talking about.

Just as all the lumber, nails and caulk eventually came together to form a new house — and a new life for a partner family — my perseverance during a challenging week on the construction site combines with that of all the other people involved in Habitat’s mission of eliminating poverty housing. Together, we can make a real difference.