I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to get involved in a Habitat for Humanity project in Cedar Rapids. It’s one of those things that’s perennially on my “to do” list, that seems rarely to get done.
A few years ago, I went to the Texas-Mexico border on a Mount Mercy service trip, and worked with a group called Proyecto Azteca, which builds housing for families in one area of south Texas.
I also attended, several years later, a multi-media journalism workshop at the First Amendment center in Nashville, Tennessee—one of the projects we worked on was a post-flood building blitz being done by the Habitat group there.
There is something fundamental about owning a home. It reminds me of George Bailey arguing with the board of the Building and Loan in “It’s a Wonderful Life” about how important it was for the working-class families of Bedford Falls to own decent housing: “Doesn’t it make them better citizens? Doesn’t it make them better customers?”
Well, I’m no expert in economics, so I can’t in all fairness answer the questions, but I think so. And one of the nice things about working with Habitat for Humanity today was the tangible results that it produced. Service volunteering is always a bit of a crap shoot—sometimes you feel valuable, sometimes you wonder about the effectiveness of what you’re doing. At least with a Habitat project, you can definitely see results.
We came, we painted and something real happened to a real house.
It felt good to be part of the Mount Mercy crowd there, too. The work started early this morning although I wasn’t there yet. What with one thing and another, including a Google map that claimed the logical biking route went the wrong way on a downtown one-way street (no, Google, trust me, it does not), I didn’t get to the house till close to noon, only to discover that most of the workers had taken off for lunch.
Well, Neil and Nate, two of my fellow MMU professors, were there to chat with. Soon, Sr. Shari showed up. Later, Laurie Hamen, our president, and her husband (Bill) appeared. We—the “old crew” (yes, Nate, now you qualify officially as old)—started painting about 12:30 or so.
A bit before 1 p.m., the volleyball team, which had already done the bulk of the work by applying the first coat in the morning, showed up. With so many healthy young people around, I ended up taking photos for a while, as we reached a point where the supply of workers exceeded the work available.
Joy and Fred and one of their daughters were there, too.
It was nice to chat and paint (and photograph, even if the camera I was using is not my favorite). It was nice to lend a hand to what seems completely a worthy cause, and to create something.
I’m sure that when my wife is back from England, we’ll be back for another of these MMU Habitat volunteer Saturdays. A few years ago, we went to New Orleans together and survived doing light construction work as part of a Hurricane Katrina relief trip through MMU, and I’m sure we can cross the Cedar River again for a few hours at a Habitat project.
Painting someone else’s new house: It was a very nice way to spend a few hours of my Saturday. A few more photos on Facebook.