January 22nd, 2011

Alternative Spring Break all-day retreat working on Habitat for Humanity houses...

~Saturday~  I was up at 6:30 and off to NC State at 7:15 for a 7:30 departure with the Alternative Spring Break 2011 Gulf Coast team for an all-day retreat out at the Braemar Habitat for Humanity site in Zebulon, NC. It worked out that we had four cars going, so I drove separately and by myself.

On the beltline, a white car came flying by me—going at least 15-20 miles per hour faster than I was, and I was going 65—and I watched it continue its maniacal speed passing two more cars, both times on the right, and with one of those lanes being a turn lane. Insane.

Today was the first time our team (of 15 kids, along with their two co-advisors, of which I'm one) spent any amount of time together, and it was a great team-building day in advance of our trip from March 5-13, 2011 to New Orleans to do post-Katrina Habitat for Humanity work over Spring Break.

It was cold out this morning—26°F, and after signing in at the site where four houses were in progress, we stepped into one of them for the safety briefing. I didn't know portable heaters could be that powerful, but they had an 85,000 BTU one going inside that house:

All four houses were in the later stages of being built, with the one with most work yet to be done, all framed and ready for an electrical inspection on Monday. For a couple of hours in the morning, most of our team volunteered to work outside at the task of cleaning up the site.

The most clean-up work was in the yard around that house that was going to be inspected on Monday, with all kinds of debris in the yard, such as shingle pieces, wood pieces, boards thrown carelessly that needed to be stacked up, can, bottles, papers, and so on. It was so cold out that some things were stuck in puddles that had turned into ice.

In addition to the socializing and learning about people that happens during a typical day of working at Habitat, I always like to learn about new tools and am constantly amazed at 1) how many tools actually exist to do obscure tasks, and 2) how much easier it is to do things when you do have the right tools to do them.

Today's two tools I learned about included a reciprocating saw (a.k.a. "Sawzall") and a chalk box.

Reciprocating Saw
A reciprocating saw, or Sawzall
Chalk Box
A chalk box

New terminology I learned today included what starter stripping is, what housewrap is, and what OSB is. Here are three members of our team (Joyce, Adam, and Phil) putting up some housewrap:

and this is what it looks like up close and personal:

These two team members are installing the vinyl siding starter strip, which is that white 2- to 3-inch strip along the bottom, and which locks to the bottom row of the vinyl siding.

In addition to those tasks, team members painted walls, interior trim, porch columns, and ceilings; covered cabinets with plastic, and wall plates and other edges with tape to avoid paint; built a bonfire; chalk-lined exterior walls for the starter strip; and helped set up and clean-up after lunch.

Here are a couple of team members painting:

Not the greatest picture

and the bonfire that was started to burn some of the smaller pieces of wood debris cleaned up around the site:

A decent bonfire

As is a part of everything in the Alternative Spring Break program, we stopped to do a reflection exercise after lunch. Before we got started on that, we celebrated our other co-advisor's, Joyce's, birthday with a heart-shaped cake that Tracy (our trip's student leader) had made:

Tracy cutting the cake she'd made for Joyce

The reflection exercise was surprisingly good. A lot of times, especially when the team is still really just getting to know each other, it can be very quiet when a thought-provoking question is asked of the team, but I'm happy to report that wasn't the case today with this team.

We reflected on these two pieces:

That we had such good discussion bodes well for the trip to come, because we pretty much have a reflection exercise every day of the trip, in which we share how what we experienced that particular day fits into the larger problem of substandard housing and homelessness, which are the themes of our trip and work.

Here's a picture of the entire team:

We ended our day between 3:30 and 4:00, and once in the car ready to drive home, I realized that I'd left my glasses somewhere in one of the houses. After swearing I hadn't gone in the remaining house after checking the three I knew I'd worked in, I went into that fourth one simply because it was the only one left to check. And there they were. That was, in fact, the house I'd spent the last two hours in doing caulking. Bless my mess.

I got home between 5:00 and 5:30, and at some point after that took a two-hour nap.

I met Joe out at Flex at 9:30, where it was Tidal Wave night, which I'm not even going to get into.

Alex was also out, and at midnight, he and Joe went over to Legends, and I didn't.

It was a long day, and I was a little bit sore in the end. Sadly, something that occurred to me doing Habitat work today is that a large majority of things involved in building a house involve bending, which is one of the reasons that caulking was only fun for the first hour, at most.

I ended the day smiling, remembering some of my conversation with Jackie, the owner of one of the houses we worked on today, who worked along side of us as part of the hundreds of hours each has to put into either their house or another house being built. She applied and was accepted for her house in July of last year, they started building it in September, and they're just a couple of months away from being finished.

For the four or five post-Katrina Habitat houses we worked on last year in New Orleans during spring break, the owners had been waiting five years for them to finish.