Habitat for Humanity makes a difference

Shortly after dawn on a Saturday morning, my husband and I joined a group of people from all over Tampa to build a house with Habitat for Humanity. In the early morning light, the concrete slab foundation didn’t look like much. A stack of trusses nearby didn’t hold much promise, either. The handful of people standing around talking didn’t appear to be enough to turn these sticks and concrete into a home, but appearances can be deceiving.

Habitat for Humanity International is a Christian organization whose goal is to eliminate substandard housing by providing modest homes to those who can manage a moderate mortgage but lack the resources for a down payment. It does not discriminate against anyone who needs a home.

The owner of this house will be Bonnie Buenaflor, a 78-year-old woman who emigrated from the Philippines in 2000. She lives with her daughter, Nancy, who moved here in 1990. Nancy has diabetes and discovered in August that she also has bone cancer.

Several USF students have participated, sharing a common goal of serving others. College of Architecture graduate student Craig Trover and biology major Callyn Hall are interested in rebuilding the USF chapter of Habitat Hillsborough, an affiliate of the international organization.

On the first day, not much seemed to happen in terms of construction. Crew leaders in training received detailed instruction from Dick Gage, a veteran Habitat volunteer with more than 10 years under his tool belt. His training class measured the slab and marked it with chalk lines – different colors representing different walls. Blueprints were examined carefully throughout the process and the chalk lines were sprayed with a clear lacquer to prevent them from being smudged or washed away.

Meanwhile, a large crowd had gathered – members of eight Tampa Presbyterian churches who have joined forces to sponsor the home. This “Faith Community” is donating the cost of the land and their time and muscle over several Saturdays. The church members had come to pray for God’s blessing and protection in the construction, and they celebrated with Buenaflor in an official groundbreaking ceremony.

Wall frames had been delivered by Sarah Arnold, the construction supervisor for this build, and we unloaded them after the ceremony. We laid them out on the ground, then put them on the slab in the order they’d be needed for the wall-raising next week. We nailed sheeting to a few of the frames, then called it a day.

The next week, many more people were at the site. The masses were called together for a brief safety talk and prayer, then split into groups headed by veteran crew leaders. The initial wall-raising group gathered around the first wall, the cement slab was prepped with caulk and the first wall went up. The crowd cheered, then the rest of the walls were raised and sheeting was nailed to them. One crew assembled trusses for the roof. By the end of that day the exterior walls, the interior wall frames and most of the trusses were up.

Over the next several weekends we finished the exterior walls and roof, installed windows, doors and vinyl siding and painted.

Meanwhile, professionals hired by Habitat worked during weekdays on plumbing, electricity, the central heat and air system and interior insulation.

One long-time volunteer expressed concern that the installation of siding was going slowly, but Arnold wasn’t worried.

“I’d rather they go slow and do it right,” she said. “Otherwise we have to do it over.”

That’s happened before. According to six-year volunteer Joe Governale, the roof of a nearby Habitat house had to have the roof re-shingled after professionals from elsewhere, donating their time and materials, did the work using Pinellas County’s specifications – which failed Hillsborough County’s inspections.

The house is about halfway done and it should be completed in March.