If I Had a Hammer……

By: Louise Rush

Pretty much everyone has heard of Habitat for Humanity, if only in a “oh, those are the guys that build houses” sort of way. For a few years, starting back in 2010, we at Levitt-Fuirst would have a “team building” event in the summertime. We would close the office, and spend the day learning how to work better together through a series of lectures and games designed to challenge us to work effectively AND together to achieve a goal, plus have a pretty yummy lunch in the middle of it.. For example, everyone would line up together and have to pass a small bucket of water backwards over their head to the person behind them in order to fill up a larger bucket at the end. I learned several things from this exercise….among them that I absolutely cannot pass a small bucket of water backwards over my head without dropping 90% of it on my head, that I become progressively more useless in direct proportion to the amount of water on my head, and that some people are so competitive that they scream at you for dropping water on your head and MAYBE THEY SHOULD REALIZE THAT THIS IS A TEAM BUILDING EVENT AND WE ARE SUPPOSED TO BE LEARNING TO WORK TOGETHER AND GET OFF MY BACK!!!! Anyway…back to Habitat for Humanity. Last year, Ken Fuirst and Jason Schiciano, our stalwart leaders and come-uppers of ideas, decided to give back to the community where we house our offices and donate time and money to Habitat for Humanity, in lieu of our summer team building event. Some of the office was excited, some raised eyebrows, some said “No way”. I was among the excited – I was going to house the world and learn to build things and go off into the woods and construct my very own mansion made of trees that I had felled and furnish it with handcrafted pieces….well, you get the idea. I was on board!! Big time!!

So, Jim, the leader of Habitat for us, came to our office. Jim is a whirlwind….passionate about what he does, talks so fast and so frenetically that sometimes you can only stand there with your mouth open and watch him pace and talk and love what he does. Jim is a believer. And we set up the dates that we would be working on the houses, learned who we would be building for (2 families of Iraq war veterans), and learned a bit about the behind the scenes process of having a house built for you. A common misconception is that these houses are given to people. Not so – there is a fairly arduous application process, you must have a job, you must be able to pay for the house, you must be responsible with it. You have to put in a ton of hours on your own house, plus contribute hours to other Habitat builds. I highly suggest going to their website and wandering through it. You will be inspired. They are all about giving a leg up to people. Part of their mission statement reads as follows:

· Advocate for affordable housing. In response to the prophet Micah’s call to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with God, we promote decent, affordable housing for all, and we support the global community’s commitment to housing as a basic human right. We will advocate for just and fair housing policy to eliminate the constraints that contribute to poverty housing. And, in all of our work, we will seek to put shelter on hearts and minds in such powerful ways that poverty housing becomes socially, politically and religiously unacceptable.
· Promote dignity and hope. We believe that no one lives in dignity until everyone can live in dignity. We believe that every person has something to contribute and something to gain from creating communities in which all people have decent, affordable places to live. We believe that dignity and hope are best achieved through equitable, accountable partnerships.
· Support sustainable and transformational development. We view our work as successful when it transforms lives and promotes positive and lasting social, economic and spiritual change within a community; when it is based on mutual trust and fully shared accomplishment; and when it demonstrates responsible stewardship of all resources entrusted to us.

Although they are, at heart, a Christian organization, there is no discrimination based on religious beliefs. They want to build houses, for people that need them. That simple.

So, we arrive at the worksite on High Street in Yonkers on Day One, excited and a little uncertain what we would be doing. And we worked….oh my goodness….we worked. I tore down walls, and hauled wood and poured cement and got  dusty and dirty and it was exhausting. This is not “fun” work, this is not “let’s give the people that work in an office a small taste of building”. This is down and dirty building a house….well, in our case, on that first day it was down and dirty demolishing a house so that we could get to the building part. We are insurance people…..give us a high end home in Chappaqua, Irvington or Bedford and we can insure the heck out of it. We even know how to insure it as you are building it. We have a whole dept. dedicated to insuring businesses that construct things, and a whole dept. dedicated to insuring what is built (2 actually, commercial and personal).What we didn’t know was HOW to build it. But we learned. There are several pros on-site that work for Habitat, and anything that you want to learn how to do, they show you. Anything that you are comfortable with, you can do. Not comfortable with building? You can garden. Any and everything that you contribute to making this house habitable and a home is welcomed and appreciated and so, so satisfying. I went home that first day more exhausted and filthy than I have ever been, but with this amazing sense of accomplishment. I went back to the site and worked every chance I got. I hammered, hauled junk, climbed ladders…everything I wanted to do I was taught to do. This year, Ken and Jason again decided to make the contribution of time and money to Habitat, and those of us that went back got to put the finishing touches on the house that we had started last year. We got the meet the family that would be moving in.

It is hard to convey the rewarding sense of accomplishment that you get working on a Habitat house. It is a “giving back” like no other, because you are doing it with your hands and your sweat and blood (a bit – I tried to keep it to a minimum but it IS a construction site and I AM a klutz). I am proud to be part of a company that felt that sense of community enough to contribute in a real way – but again, from my previous blog – I still think that Ken is a dork and won’t tell him that anything he does is cool.

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