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Hard work and ‘a lot of silliness’

After one busy week of the Habitat AmeriCorps Build-a-Thon 2012, 11 families are closer to having a home in Dallas.

By Julie Gurnon

Cleanup began at 1 p.m. Friday, the last day of the AmeriCorps Build-a-Thon in Dallas, Texas.

I was amazed by the homes. All 11 houses had reached the dry-in phase — with windows, doors, weather wrapping and roof decking installed — and five of the 11 had fully shingled roofs.


One of 11 houses that went from cement slabs to the dry-in phase in five days in Dallas, courtesy of AmeriCorps members. Photo by Julie Gurnon


AmeriCorps members enjoy Texas barbeque at Eddie Dean’s Ranch in Dallas on the last night of the 2012 AmeriCorps Build-a-Thon. Photo by Julie Gurnon


At lunch, a staffer from Dallas Area Habitat for Humanity produced two monster water guns, which were taken down the road to the construction site. AmeriCorps members took turns soaking one another, sometimes playfully targeting National Service and affiliate staff members.

Emily Stock, National Service program specialist at Habitat for Humanity International, said that, despite the heat and the hard work, this group of AmeriCorps kept the fun levels up all week, engaging in “a lot of silliness.”

One example: House leaders devised a friendly competition between those working on houses with traditional framing and those using structural insulated panels, or SIPs.
The two teams, labeled Independence and Freedom, vied for “first-to-finish” bragging rights throughout the week, prominently displaying large face cutouts of Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck and Billy Bob Thornton — characters from the movie “Armageddon” — on the front of the houses.

Closing the week in ‘urban cowboy’ style
The closing ceremony and reception was held later Friday at Eddie Dean’s Ranch, but even the National Service staff members didn’t know what to expect. There were rumors the place had a mechanical bull.

Not only did Eddie Dean’s Ranch have a mechanical bull, it had pool tables and a Texas barbecue buffet — and a vegan menu for anyone so inclined. I’ve always wanted to become a vegan, but my resolve disappears quickly when there’s barbecue involved.

The dance floor, surrounded by faux-front facades of a small-town, western Main Street, had been filled with tables and chairs decked out with red and white checkered tablecloths.

Before eating, Dallas Area Habitat ran a slide show with images taken during the week. They also presented the partner families with a signed picture of the AmeriCorps members who helped build their houses.

As the evening progressed, AmeriCorps members lined up for a ride on the mechanical bull.

Bringing it home
The high point of my night was talking to the mother of one of the new homeowners. Marie Shaw, 54, will be living with her daughter and grandson, who are mentally disabled. Shaw takes care of her grandson while her daughter, Stephanie, 30, works at Goodwill Industries of Dallas.

The noise and the crowd fell away as I listened to Shaw tell me some of the struggles her family had endured. The Habitat home is the first good thing that has happened to them in quite a while, she told me.

As she described what this house means to her family — joy radiating from her face and in her voice — I said a quiet prayer of thanks.

Julie Gurnon writes about the Neighborhood Stabilization Program 2 at Habitat for Humanity International. She’s based in Americus, Georgia.