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Building stuff

Actually building something, I never thought I would enjoy it as much as I did. For about a year and a half I volunteered for Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco at their Mission Street site in Daly City, a new housing development consisting of 36 apartments.

habitat mission street site

I started out volunteering two days a week and reduced to one day when I started a new job. It was a fantastic experience and I feel glad and privileged that I had this opportunity to help build houses for people as well as alongside these same people as they were putting in what Habitat calls their ‘sweat equity’. As part of the requirements for homeownership through Habitat, families are required to put five hundred hours of ‘sweat’ into building their own homes. The great thing about it is that the future tenants are working (sweating) together so when they finally move in they all know their neighbours. It’s so simple yet so clever.

When I first started I didn’t really have any hands-on experience since the work in our own house in Cork was mostly done by Richie, apart from painting and flooring the attic (he did not fit in the attic). However the staff and the Americorps crew were always helpful and never looked too annoyed when I made them repeat things a third time…

A small challenge for me was the fact that I know what various tools are named in Dutch but I never had the need to know this in English so getting asked to go to the tool room to pick up a snips, cats paw or sawzall was an adventure and sometimes required multiple trips. But I learned (to a large extent) and even felt brave enough to get my own tool belt at some point.

The work on site was varied and no two days would be the same. On Tuesdays, when there were only regular volunteers on site, there was training provided. Although in the beginning my brain would only absorb about twenty percent of the information, as I got more familiar with two by fours, king studs and cripples this increased. On the other days of the week there were large groups of day volunteers which was fun as it was a chance to meet a lot of different people.

Waterproofing, roofing, siding, dry walling, you name it, I did it. Although I still can’t remember what that yellow stuff is called (I think it’s sheetrock)…
I learned some pretty cool tricks too but by far my favorite was using these magnets to put into the sockets to cut out a hole in the dry wall after putting it up. If that makes no sense, trust me it was cool as was using the air pressured nail gun to put up window frames (just that once)…

I was sad to say goodbye to the site, the people and their fantastic spirit and would loved to have witnessed the new tenants moving into their homes, but it has given me a lot of inspiration and food for thought and it has certainly made me appreciate all I have.



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