On Community and Teamwork and Being One of Many

As I’ve been thinking about all the cooperative efforts that have gone into building all of the Habitat homes I’ve worked on, the phrase, “It takes a village” keeps popping into my head. Like the famous proverb which references the raising of children, the phrase to me encapsulates the cumulative effect of the undertakings of many – the community that comes together, the accretion of thousands of hours of planning, guiding, teaching, supporting, and building.

In Las Cruces, I was just one of the hundreds of people who have given their time to building the 5 houses that were completed in April. And us builders were only just some of the many other people who have contributed in other ways – the aforementioned planning, the selecting of families, the support of future homeowners, the preparing of lunches or providing of treats, the community groups who fundraise, the individual donors, the workers and volunteers in the Re-Store who are helping to generate revenue, the local businesses that raise funds and/or awareness for affordable housing through partnering with Habitat – the list goes on. Ways of contributing are not always immediately apparent either; for example 98-year old local resident Mac, who’s been volunteering with Mesilla Valley Habitat for 30 years, still comes out to site a couple mornings a week to take pictures for the affiliate.

Beyond Las Cruces, other people seek funding and grants and raise awareness for affordable housing in myriads of ways. Two people I know for example have participated in long-distance fundraising bike rides: Longtime care-a-vanner Tony pedals every year down the Natchez Trace Parkway with the Fuller Center for Housing and my former co-worker in Santa Fe Callahan rode something like 4,000 miles last summer across the country through a program called Bike and Build. Truly we all come together in our own ways to build these houses, all these small incremental contributions adding up to homes for families.

Spending 3 months building with Mesilla Valley this winter has made me even more aware of the value of all these different ways in which people offer their assistance. I’ve seen people who’ve never done any type of construction work show a willingness to overcome their fear and learn a new skill and I’ve seen people who’ve been doing this work a long time show a willingness to listen to others’ suggestions. I’ve seen people step up and take responsibility when leadership was needed or a role needed to be filled, and I’ve seen people with greater experience or those in leadership roles pass on responsibility so that others could have the opportunity to learn and grow their ability to contribute in the future. I’ve seen people agonize over trying to do something the right way because they cared, and I’ve seen people stop their own task to help them accomplish their goal. I’ve seen people show up to help even when they were injured or sick or in pain or in the midst of ‘dealing with some pretty serious issues, and I’ve seen people gather around to support them and work to help them contribute in whatever ways they could. I’ve seen a lot of love and care and consideration and willingness – so much willingness – from other volunteers, partner families, community members, and more. I’ve seen time and time again the spirit of helping others that pervades the process of constructing these houses. All in the service of building the best possible homes for these families and giving them a “hand up.”

Daily longtime local volunteers Rick and Mike taking care on trimming out the corner under the bar

Care-a-vanners George, Claire, and Ed painting with members of the local Allstate Office painting floor trim

Care-a-vanners Bob and Madonna caulking and nail setting doorframes

Care-a-vanners Steve and Rick installing the master bedroom door in Jessica’s house

Longtime local volunteer Mike instructing a future homeowner on how to install trim

30-year volunteer Mac out taking pictures on site

Though there were countless demonstrations of coming together, it was willingness that seemed to be continually present. Paint days and grout days were a shining example; neither activity is particularly popular but by making these tasks ones in which everyone participates, they can be accomplished quickly and easily. To reference another proverb: Many hands make light work. On these days 20 or so people primed and painted the interior of a house or grouted and laid down protective covering for a tiled floor, usually in about 4 hours. By coming together, the jobs got done and we could move on.

Care-a-vanners Tony, Tom, and Ron painting the main room of Erica’s house

Good humor when trying to get the job done:

Care-a-vanners, locals, and future homeowners cleaning up on grout day at Desiree’s house

Another example of teamwork was when it suddenly became necessary to shingle the last house due to bad weather being forecasted. That morning 7 people raised their hands to go up on the roof. 7 people, some of whom dislike shingling or hadn’t done it or have mostly stopped working at heights because they’ve aged. Despite the fact that the shingles had to be handnailed (meaning, no nail guns were used), that roof was finished at about noon the second day, right before the rain started. Bad weather also forced a change of tasks another time, and the entire crew set out to caulk and paint the soffit and fascia on all 5 houses.

Willing roofers everywhere:

Care-a-vanners Tom, Darnell, and Kurt shingling Jessica’s house

Me shingling the front valley on Jessica’s house – with 6 other people!

Finishing up shingling the ridge vent over the garage

Tom and Darnell bringing it home on the ridge vent in the nick of time before the rain

Care-a-vanners Wayne, Tony, and Ron caulking and painting the fascia and soffit

Care-a-vanners Kathy and Rick caulking soffit

Working together was also very evident on the last official build day of the season when the houses were landscaped. On that hot, 86-degree day nearly 50 people showed up to plant trees and shrubs, lay down thousands of yards of weed barrier, and shovel and rake 75 tons of gravel. Yes, I said, 75 tons.

Coming together to landscape:

Working together on Landscaping Day

It is only by working together and by helping each other that these homes get built. No one person can do it alone. No single contribution – or contributor – is more valuable than any other. It is only the accumulation of efforts, the coming together and participation by the community of those who believe that everyone deserves a decent place to live that builds these homes. This spirit of cooperation and community and care as we all do our part in working toward the common goal is what makes tackling the need for affordable housing all the more special. Working with Habitat isn’t just building houses – it’s building them together, with the families and with other people who want to contribute. And I love this. I love that this exists. I love being a part of helping improve the quality of life for future homeowners and their families. I love being a part of a group of people who believe that everyone has the right to decent, affordable housing. I love that the people around me have given me opportunities to grow so that I may help others as they have helped me. I love the community that supports it’s members in the quest to eliminate substandard and prohibitively-expensive housing. And I love that these villages are present everywhere, and are always willing to welcome and support new citizens.

One of the Care-a-vanner crews with locals and future homeowners

Last RV Care-a-vanner crew of the building season