Habitat for Humanity Volunteer

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Imagine yourself as a settler on the frontier about 150 years ago. You've got a patch of land that you hope to build into a prosperous farm. You want to grow all kinds of great things to eat, from apples to carrots. You want to raise goats and cattle. But there's a lot of work to do before you can do all that!

Right now, you're living in a tent, and it's getting pretty cold at night. Your animals are in a pen at night, at risk of being attacked by bears. You need shelter for yourself and your animals right away!

Luckily, your neighbors are there to help you. Working together, you and the other settlers are able to build a whole barn! Everybody is happy when the job is done. There is a party with dancing and food that night. You are happy! You and your critters have a warm, safe place to sleep. Soon, you'll be helping one of the other settlers build their barn. This is what a "barn raising" is all about.

These days, the frontier has been settled. Yet there still are people who need shelter. Thousands of people in North America are homeless. Thousands more live in homes that are unsafe or unsuitable. Luckily, there is a group called Habitat for Humanity. It helps people build homes of their own. It's a modern method of "barn raising!"

"It's meeting a need -- there are a lot of people living in poverty and sub-standard housing," says David Beckerson of Habitat for Humanity. "They can't get a break on safe, decent, affordable housing for themselves and their families."

This is a problem because studies have shown that poverty has a negative impact on health. That is, people get sick. When they're sick, they have fewer opportunities to pursue lifelong goals like education or careers, explains Beckerson. People with decent housing tend to be healthier and happier.

Building safe, decent and affordable houses is what Habitat is all about.

"We have one thing to do -- build decent houses for people who need them. That's all," says Ted Swisher. He is a director with Habitat for Humanity in the United States.

Habitat builds a lot of houses! Check out these numbers:

--Since 1976, Habitat for Humanity International has provided safe, decent homes for more than 9.8 million people. Today they work in more than 1,400 communities across the U.S. and in nearly 70 countries.

-There are active branches (called "affiliates") in all 50 U.S. states of the United States, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

-Habitat affiliates exist in more than 90 countries around the world.

Anyone can volunteer. If you have building skills, that's great. If you don't, you'll learn them on the job!

Millard and Linda Fuller are the founders of Habitat for Humanity, and Millard is the former president. "Habitat asks people from all walks of life -- young and old, skilled and willing-to-learn, rich and poor -- to join in this mountain-moving venture," Millard says.

Most people who work on a Habitat project are unskilled when it comes to home construction. These are people who want to lend a helping hand in any way they can. They get direction from people on the crew who do know how to swing a hammer.

"Twenty percent are skilled professionals in construction, electrical and the other areas needed to complete a good house," says Fuller. "Together, everyone is a complete team on each project."

There are other skills to learn besides building and construction skills. These are teamwork and good communication skills! Some volunteers have discovered they like the work and have gone on to become professionals in the building and construction industry.

Volunteers can also work at an affiliate office. This way, they learn administrative skills, says Beckerson.

"The best part of all of this is the satisfaction of accomplishing something you can see and feel, and know that someone will live a better life in a warm, well-built house because of what you did," says Fuller.

The building crew includes the people for whom the houses are built. This is called their "sweat equity." This means volunteers get to meet the people who will live in the houses they're building.

Youths are essential to Habitat's work. There are college and university chapters of Habitat across the country.

Campus chapters have three key roles, says Beckerson. First, the chapters get involved in the actual building. Second, they do promotional work for Habitat. Third, they raise awareness about poverty housing issues.

Former American president Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn are volunteers with Habitat. One week each year, they lead a work project for Habitat. "We have become small players in an exciting global effort to alleviate the curse of homelessness," Carter says on Habitat's website. "With our many new friends, we've worked to raise funds, to publicize the good work of Habitat, to recruit other volunteers, to visit overseas projects and even build a few houses."

Who else has volunteered? Becky Kalman, Avital Havusha and Mindy Sevinor. The three high school students checked with the Habitat office in Boston because they wanted to do "something different" with their summer vacation. They decided to get involved in a building blitz far from home -- they went to Newfoundland, Canada!

All three worked on construction crews. "I never built a house before," says Kalman in a Habitat publication. "It was a great experience for me!"

During their building blitz in St. John's, Newfoundland, they helped build seven Habitat houses in five days.

Habitat brings people together. The group tells the story of one couple who met at a construction project. They got married a year later...on the roof of the house they had built.

One of the fastest houses ever built was built for Habitat. A home owner's association decided to get involved. It gathered a team of all-professional skilled workers. They were able to build an entire house in five hours. Now that's working!

Gilbert Nicholson was a professional civil engineer. When he retired, he decided to volunteer on a Habitat project. He liked it so much that he became a skilled construction tradesman. He is now a construction supervisor with the organization.

How to Get Involved

You can volunteer by calling your nearest Habitat for Humanity affiliate. Usually, there is a volunteer application form to fill out. The office staff will tell you where and when to go to work.

If you have any building skills, make sure to tell the Habitat officials. This way they can put you to the best possible use.

Through Habitat's youth program, children as young as five can get involved. Youths from five to 25 help with fund-raising events and education and advocacy activities. Only those 16 and older can help with the actual house construction. After a house is built, however, youths of all ages may help with landscaping or painting.

The Austin, Texas Habitat group reminds volunteers to dress for the weather, and be prepared to do just about anything.

With Habitat groups across the country, it's best to contact the office nearest you. Learn what's happening in your area, and find out how you can help.


Habitat for Humanity International


Get Involved
Use this search engine to find the Habitat for Humanity affiliate nearest you

Habitat for Humanity Youth Site
Visit Habitat's website for all ages, and find games, activities and suggestions on ways to help

Habitat for Humanity Stories
Read about Habitat’s work around the world

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