Women build homes, confidence
Some women have never held a hammer, let alone imagined they would help build a house from the ground up. But Habitat for Humanity Women Build is allowing women from all walks of life to hone new skills and enjoy an incredible sense of accomplishment.
[ 2008-02-27 ]
Women make up 50% of Habitat's volunteer force but account for fewer than 25% of workers on the construction site. By planning projects that included more women, Habitat realized it could increase the number of houses it constructs. (Frank Mazzuca, Ensitive)
"I didn't come from a handy background but became involved to restore my faith in people and to do something that was a complete departure from my day job in IT project management," says volunteer Allison Rekus, 33. "It has been such a positive experience."
Several projects later, the Oshawa resident serves as a crew leader on various types of projects, including a recent Singles Build in Toronto. "I have met women nervous about picking up a paintbrush and want to encourage them ... At the end of the day it's great to hear them say, 'Wow, I did it!'"
The Habitat movement was founded in the United States in 1976 and follows a basic concept: people in need of adequate shelter work side by side with volunteers to build simple houses. It expanded to Canada in 1985 and now spans over 90 countries.
The Women Build initiative dates back to 1991 and began in Canada as a grassroots project in 2000. It's not about excluding men, but including women, explains Maureen Crawford, director of membership for Habitat for Humanity Canada. "Women make up 50% of Habitat's volunteer force but account for fewer than 25% of workers on the construction site," she says.
By planning projects that included more women, Habitat realized it could increase the number of houses it constructs. The result: a welcoming, supportive environment that allows women intimidated by the prospect of volunteering in non-traditional roles to develop new skills.
"We spend a lot more time on pre-build seminars for our Women Build projects, teaching things like how to properly hold a hammer so when they're on the job site, they feel more comfortable," Crawford says.
Women Build also offers on-site coaching. "If you feel more comfortable, you may transition to traditional builds, though some volunteers enjoy the atmosphere of Women Builds," Crawford says. "Women are fun and can be quite playful ... You'll never see a port-a-potty better decorated than on a Women Build site."
Women Build has attracted a new legion of volunteers. "It's not uncommon to have to close off applications because it's not safe to have too many volunteers on a construction site," Crawford says.
When possible, Women Build welcomes female tradespeople to serve as crew leaders. "They're role models. Many women, the younger ones in particular, are looking at the trades as a possible career because of their experience," Crawford says. "That wasn't the intent of Women Build but it is a nice byproduct."
The Northumberland affiliate tackled its first Women Build project in 2005, when it renovated a home -- including the addition of two rooms -- in just three weeks. The next year, it built a home from the ground up.
"Most of our crew leaders and site supervisors are men but as we build, we're finding more women who can be leaders," executive director Cathy Lyons says. "Most of our volunteers are 'willing workers' who are directed by skilled workers. Most women just want to help and are amazed at what they can accomplish. We do attract some female skilled tradespeople ... Our goal is to empower women in an industry that isn't traditionally women centric."
Habitat for Humanity Women Build is about building homes with a focus on promoting women as leaders and to provide an opportunity for women to learn new trades or skills under the direction of both male and female skilled tradespeople.