Had Fun, Did Good, Gained Wisdom – What a Deal!

Habitat for Humanity Has Given Me Far More Than I Have Given Them.                                         Now I pass those gifts to you.


My good spirited crew has finished our latest work supporting Habitat for Humanity. We did so on the day before Thanksgiving. This was our second house on this site. Habitat will finish the whole neighborhood in a few weeks. The first half, including the first house we helped build, is already occupied. It’s a terrific little community.

Thanksgiving inclines us to reflect on what merits our gratitude. Hopefully, we also think about how best to express that gratitude. As we finished up on Wednesday, I reflected on what the Habitat experience has taught me. It’s quite a list of lessons. They travel well  into the rest of life. I think we could all do well to keep these observations in mind:

People who disagree on many things can still work together for causes they share. Habitat crews may include evangelical Christians, Unitarian Universalists, Muslims, atheists, and everyone between. Life experiences vary from CEOs, to blue collar workers, to educators, to retirees. People do this work because their beliefs, as different as they may be in other ways, call them to serve others. This is a place of common ground.

In the end, no one cares what religious or political belief you may have. We just care that you are willing to be there on any given day and can hammer straight.

Every task is important, every gift of time is valued. The Habitat team leaders are all professional contractors. They excel at figuring out what people may be good at doing. Some are comfortable with power tools, some not. Some are comfortable up high framing roofs, others not. Some can work independently, some need regular supervision. All are welcome, all are needed. From more skilled jobs to the simplest, everyone has work to do that counts.

There is always something to learn. I have long been comfortable building things. I enjoy a good wood working project as much as anyone. On a slow day, I may stop by Lowes just to smell fresh cut lumber (if only I could get a cologne that smelled like that). I have joked that I would take on any project as long as it required a new tool.

Yet, every day I have worked with Habitat, I learned a new trick from the professionals. One reason for this is that they are glad to share their knowledge. Another is that the site has the atmosphere of a learning experience. It is great fun learning new things, and teaching others.

Shared labor is shared value.When people qualify for a Habitat home, they normally join the work crew. When they sign the mortgage and get the keys, they have put in about 200 hours of labor into building that home, side by side with the Habitat crews, or other support work. This changes everything. This is not a charity endeavor. This is people working together for a shared goal.

The homeowner meets people who thought them so worthy of this house that that gave their own time to make it happen. The volunteer crews get to meet the new owners and work with them. You know the people for whom you are building. To a person, every new owner I have met has been a good, hard working person. Most have at least two jobs. They are grateful for the boost that this gives them. They are also determined to merit the opportunity and to pay it forward.

Nothing is wasted. Habitat gets a lot of donated materials and services. This keeps costs down for these homes. They take nothing for granted. Habitat recycles EVERYTHING they can and considers waste a cardinal sin. They are as grateful for the donations as they are for the volunteer labor. Signs are all around the site reminding us who is not on site with us but made contributions. Without those contributions, none of this would happen.

Quality is expected. Just because we are mostly amateurs is no excuse for poor workmanship. Everyone is expected to do their best. On our very first task on our first house, we built a wall. We stood it up in place and called our supervisor over to inspect it before we attached it to the floor. We were proud of it.

When he measured it, he said that it looked good, but the alignment was ¼ inch off. We observed that it’s an entire wall. Was ¼ inch really that big a deal? To which he replied, “This is someone’s home. Let’s get it right.” We made the correction and never forgot the lesson. This is someone’s home. Honor that with a best effort. I love that experience and I recall it every time I go on site.

Those are five lessons Habitat has given me so far. I see opportunities to apply them to the rest of life. What a gift. I hope you can use them as well.

Needless to say, I judge Habitat for Humanity to be a solid organization. In my view, they are in the top echelons of volunteer and nonprofit entities that make a difference and do things right. If you would like to know more about them, or make a modest donation (hint, hint), it would be time and money well spent. Find them at https://www.habitat.org

Pay if forward, friends, pay it forward.

      Bill Clontz

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