When a groggy Crystal Coats answered a knock at her door recently, she never expected home ownership would be her reward.
Coats, a single mother of two, is the recipient of Tahlequah Area Habitat for Humanity’s fifth annual Women Build project: A 1,070 square-foot, three-bedroom home.
Of course, she’ll be putting her own elbow grease into the project, since “sweat equity” is part of the agreement involved in the selection process.
“A few months ago, I was notified by Sarah Davidson of Help-In-Crisis that I’d been selected to fill out a Habitat application,” said Coats. “When [TAHFH Executive Director Linda] Cheatham showed up at my door to tell me in person I’d been selected, I was shocked at first, really excited and happy.”
An initiative of Habitat for Humanity’s Women Build program – the fifth annual Women Build Week, sponsored by Lowe’s – challenges women to devote at least one day between May 5-13 to creating affordable housing.
Cheatham said this year, TAHFH held its Women Build event on Saturday, May 5, and had a large delegation of volunteers.
“The Women Build Week runs through Mother’s Day, but we like to have our event on the first weekend, rather than the last, because what would you do if you had bad weather?” asked Cheatham. “We had a lot of women volunteer this year who had never participated before, and each received a purple, Women Build T-shirt. Our goal for the day was to raise the first wall, which we accomplished.”
This year’s Women Build theme is “The Build Generation,” which reflects the goal to recruit and train women volunteers, as well as welcome the next generation of Habitat women builders – young women, ages 18-24 – to help support Habitat’s mission to create affordable housing.
“Women have the capability and determination necessary to build Habitat for Humanity houses, addressing the problem of substandard housing in a concrete way so that families have safe, decent and affordable homes,” said Cheatham. “Poverty housing is a severe threat to children’s health, growth and potential.”
According to the Census Bureau, in the U.S. more than 12 million children – one out of every six – is living in poverty.
Women volunteers boost Habitat’s capacity to build more houses and serve more families. More than 1,900 Women Build houses have been built since the program began in 1998.
In the run up to Women Build, TAHFH and Lowe’s held classes to prepare women volunteers for the task. In conjunction with Women Build, Lowe’s awarded Tahlequah Area Habitat for Humanity a $5,000 grant, which is provided in the form of a gift card to be used for supplies at the local store.
“As part of the event we, in cooperation with Lowe’s, sponsor classes,” said Cheatham. “This year, participants learned how to frame a house. A Lowe’s employee showed us how to build two walls and join them together. The second class was learning about trim and interior painting. The classes are free, and while we had five or six women participate in each class, we’d really like to have more.”
On Saturday, build day, two shifts of women worked on House No. 19 on Short Street, near Bluff and First. Throughout the morning, the weather threatened to spoil their efforts.
“I was getting reports from Hulbert, where it was raining cats and dogs, and Fort Gibson, where they had hail,” said Cheatham. “Fortunately, all we got here were a few sprinkles.”
According to Cheatham, House No. 19 is slated for a “rapid build,” and volunteers hope to have the project complete by the end of June.
“We begin regular construction May 15, and if the house is certified as occupied by the end of June, we can qualify for a $5,000 grant from Habitat International,” said Cheatham. “We’ll working Tuesdays through Saturdays until the home is complete. Hopefully, since Northeastern State University will be in intersession, we’ll get university volunteers. As the final work progresses in June, we hope to get public school teachers involved, as well as the general public.”
Cheatham said TAHFH accepts volunteers from all skill levels.
“We recommend those interested in volunteering sign up on our website – www.tahlequahhabitat.org – and click on the Volunteer Now tab,” said Cheatham. “We’re also looking for people to help with light meals, and anyone looking to help with that can contact the office at (918) 453-1332.”
Cheatham has been involved with TAHFH for 20 years and has served as executive director for the past four years. She believes the Women Build event helps women gain confidence in their abilities and forges lasting friendships.
“We’ve had groups of friends participate, groups of co-workers, and women who, after working on a home, find things they’d like to do to their own homes,” said Cheatham.
“It’s very empowering.”
To learn more about Tahlequah Area Habitat for Humanity, visit www.tahle quahhabitat.org, or call (918) 453-1332.