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Building homes, building lives

May 16, 2018

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — Kristen Hayes stood on the wood floor base of her future home and picked up the edge of a wall. One the count of three, she and a line of women volunteers hoisted the wall to standing.

Hayes looked through a window opening and wiped away a few tears with a free hand as she helped hold the structure. Hammers pounded as crew members on Saturday secured the first wall of the home she’ll soon call her own.

The house Hayes is helping to build means safety and stability for the single mother and her 3-year-old daughter.

“This is going to be my house forever, for the rest of my life,” Hayes said. “And I know that one day I’m going to be able to pass this along to my daughter and give her something that she can call her home forever.”

More than 100 volunteers — mostly women — helped construct the floor and walls of her home earlier this month as part of National Women Build Week. Habitat for Humanity and Lowe’s organized the annual event to construct and repair more than 4,500 homes in 300 communities, with help from more than 117,000 female volunteers, according to a Habitat for Humanity press release. Lowe’s donated nearly $2 million for this year’s effort.

Across the street from where Hayes’ house took shape, Sarah Weinhandl joined volunteers painting the inside of her future home.

The nonprofit housing organization provides affordable mortgages to help families achieve stability and self-reliance “to build better lives for themselves,” according to the press release.

The two homes are the first of 13 in the Harris Crossing cul-de-sac subdivision owned by Habitat for Humanity, The Heart of Wyoming. The 2.91 acre, $2.5 million development will be the largest Habitat for Humanity project in Casper.

The new homeowners are required to put in “sweat equity hours.” They gain skills and confidence working alongside the volunteers, as well as a sense of the support the community has to offer, Habitat for Humanity executive director Heidi Maldoon said.

“A lot of times people will come to something like this and they’ve never really had any construction experience,” Maldoon said. “They walk away and they feel empowered, too, just like our homeowners.”

For single mothers Hayes and Weinhandl, the homes mean security and a place to call their own and raise their children.

Hayes lives in a neighborhood that’s not safe enough to allow her daughter to play outside, she said. The three-year-old rides her bicycle in their apartment hallway.

The girl has been watching the progress since the groundbreaking, when their future home was just a hole in the ground. Even so, she seems to understand, and often asks to visit their “dirt house.”

Weinhandl looks forward to a yard where her 1-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son can play. They currently live in a third-floor apartment where she can’t just send him down to play, she said. It’s also a place where they can bond as a family, as the children play in the yard and they take walks through the neighborhood.

“Some of my favorite memories growing up are at home with my parents,” she said.

Since being chosen for a Habitat for Humanity home, her son has been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. The family has dealt with medical costs and traveling to Denver for his care, said Weinhandl, who recently was promoted to assistant manager at Porter’s Mountain View Supply.

“So to have affordable housing and a home that my kids can grow up in and call our own — plus be able to provide for him in those areas, is huge,” Weinhandl said.

Many of the volunteers recognized Hayes from her job as a cashier at Albertson’s. Sara Wood met Hayes after the cashier found her I.D. and tracked her down to return it. They ran into each other again while helping last month at Weinhandl’s house across the street. She promised to come back.

“It was just serendipity — a random act of kindness, and then I ended up here,” Wood said.

The event was her second time volunteering and she learned a little more about construction.

“We were kind of coaching each other on how to swing a hammer this morning,” she said. “But look at them go now — just teamwork, I love it.”

Habitat for Humanity volunteers and homeowners alike learn skills they can apply to future home projects and repairs, from building and applying sheet rock to installing windows and doors. It might be something as simple as a shed or deck like the one in her backyard, Weinhandl said.

“You might not be able to do it all from start to finish, but you can do a majority of it just from simple skills you learn here,” she said.

Some of the women are experienced in the construction industry and help lead others, like Marty Robinson, who’s been volunteering for Habitat for Humanity for 17 years.

“I learned a lot of what I did here,” Robinson said. “I did have a little bit of practice before I got here but I learned a lot. I learned enough that I could go get a contractor’s license, which I did for Habitat for Humanity.”

Working on the homes teaches skills as well as an understanding of how to use local professionals.

“You have more sources to talk to, because you have a mentor that guides you through homeownership,” Robinson said. “It’s a wonderful experience, and you end up working with great people. It’s very hands-on, and anybody that chooses to probably can do it. It’s very educational.”

Having her own home started to feel more real as Weinhandl and volunteers rolled creamy off-white paint over her walls. But she still couldn’t quite believe it, she told one of the workers.

She looks forward to getting to know her future neighbors and her children making lifelong friendships like she did in her neighborhood growing up.

“Plus I’m excited to wake up on Saturdays and walk out my front door and help build my neighbors’ houses,” she said.

She wiped more tears as she thanked and embraced several volunteers who congratulated her after raising the first wall.

“It’s a big deal — all these ladies and gentleman coming out and putting their heart and soul into something that’s not even theirs,” Hayes said. “It’s just the most incredible thing. There’s still faith in humanity.”


Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com

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