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Wrapping up National Women Build Week in Georgia

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Future homeowner Katinka Matthews builds on her house with recording artist Trisha Yearwood on Mother’s Day in Jonesboro, Ga.

Southern Crescent HFH executive director Brenda Rayburn had just started giving instructions to the 30-plus volunteers who had come out to build Sunday when her son, Jeremy, snuck up behind her and said: “Hey mom, Happy Mother’s Day.”

Jeremy had driven the night before from Baton Rogue, La., to Jonesboro, Ga. (just south of Atlanta) to surprise his mom and take part in the build – an appropriate start to the Mother’s Day build and the final day of National Women Build Week 2009.

Several mother-daughter combinations came out to help on Mother’s Day – including Habitat supporter Trisha Yearwood, who built with her mother, sister, niece and husband, Garth Brooks. Brooks might be the top cowboy in most circles, but on the Women Build site Sunday, volunteers took to calling him “Mr. Yearwood.”

“I think that sounds about right,” Mrs. Yearwood said as she wrote the new moniker on Brooks’ nametag.

Yearwood’s family quickly immersed themselves in the day’s work along with all the other volunteers. Women learned to install both brick and hardi-plank types of siding. They also helped do the interior base trim, finished installing interior door and kitchen cabinets, and sanded and painted front porch railings.

“I came out here on Friday to volunteer,” said Nikki Hall. “I had no idea what I was doing, but they taught me how to install doors and today, I’m the expert! Now, I’m showing others how.”

“Getting new volunteers out at an event like this means a lot to an affiliate like us,” said Cara Welch, development coordinator for Southern Crescent HFH. “It helps people learn about us and discover that they can really help us.”

Volunteers were working on the house in a new neighborhood being developed by Southern Crescent HFH. Eventually, 48 Habitat homes will grace the rolling landscape. Thanks to a partnership with nearby Atlanta HFH, the smaller affiliate is able to fill those homes with partner families from the entire Atlanta metro area – giving more families an affordable housing option in the area.

One of those families is headed by Katinka Matthews – she’s the future homeowner of the Women Build house. Matthews worked on site all Sunday, measuring and installing cabinets in her kitchen. Her infectious enthusiasm kept other volunteers motivated throughout the day.

Matthews says she values the house more than people might know. In addition to having a permanent home for her family, she also will now have a house built specifically with her 15-year-old son, Tony, in mind.

Tony has cerebral palsy, is confined to a wheelchair and has a feeding tube. He is able to smile and communicate in other ways with his family, but cannot help himself. He is also a tall teenager. His mom does not have room to bathe him at their current apartment, and instead has to take him to her nursing clinic each day to bathe him.

The Matthews’ new home will be wheelchair accessible, with a bathroom large enough to accommodate Tony’s wheelchair and meet his needs.

“I am more excited about that than anything else,” Katinka says. “This means so much to our family. And it means even more to have all these women out here just as excited to help me accomplish this.”

Matthews has three other children and all of them came to interact with the volunteers. Brian, 17, and his sister, Destiny, 13, wore name tags that followed up their names with: “My house.” Alex, 14, opted for a more specific title: “House Homeowner.” All his mom could do was laugh.

Brian is one year away from high school graduation and he is already thinking about college. “I want to go to the University of Miami because they have a good teaching program,” he said. “I’m good at math and want to be a college professor someday.”

What did he think of all the women helping build their house?

“They’re funny,” Brian said. “They keep teasing me so they make it fun to be out here. They can seriously work, though, too. We’ve gotten a lot done.”

Before the day’s closing ceremony, Yearwood and Brooks posed for pictures with volunteers and spent time with the Matthews family. Wet with sweat –and a few spurts of afternoon showers – the volunteers were proud to step back and see what they’d accomplished.

“Nothing against any other nonprofits or charities, but I just don’t know any other group like Habitat that gives you such an opportunity to get dirty and be so hands-on,” said Yearwood. “You just can’t do this and come away feeling like you’ve wasted your time. It’s impossible.”

Southern Crescent HFH hopes the Matthews’ home will be finished by the end of June. That means just before the Fourth of July – maybe the family could celebrate with some fireworks?

Alex laughs and shakes his head: “My mom won’t let us get near those.”

Trisha Yearwood served as the voice of National Women Build Week during May 2-10, 2009. All told, more than 200 Habitat affiliates throughout the U.S. hosted Women Build days during the event week.