Habitat’s women building better communities


By Dave McCallum

Some Sussex County women are strapping on their tool belts and donning their safety hats and safety goggles as they help a Milton-area family become first-time homeowners.

The women, who are part of Habitat for Humanity’s “Women’s Build”, are working on a 1,232 square foot house with three bedrooms and 1-1/2 bathrooms. They began work in March but the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to stop in mid-April and they could not return to the site until June 1. Not only was there a more than a month-long stoppage, but a decrease in the number of volunteers working, Courtney Tull, the project’s volunteer service manager, said.

“Our first two or three build days we were fortunate enough to have 15 or 20 volunteers which was awesome, all local ladies, working towards building this house,” she said. “Then, we had to shut down obviously for coronavirus and we couldn’t have any volunteers on site. And now that we’re allowed to have volunteers on-site again, we’re only allowed to have up to eight volunteers working at a time on outdoor projects.

“I don’t believe that some of the volunteers weren’t comfortable coming back and being around people or comfortable wearing a mask on site.”

As far as the number of volunteers now that work on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, which are the work days, Tull says, there are now only four to five on a consistent basis.

“Most of them (ladies) are from the community, which is awesome. It’s really cool to see people from Milton or near Milton, like Lewes come together to help build affordable housing,” she said. “The ladies have built relationships with each other and with Habitat, and they learned all of these skills by coming to the classes (instruction classes) that we held and now they are putting that into action on site.

“It’s just a cool dynamic between them. They definitely work really work hard and consistently. This is one of my favorite projects for sure.”

Nancy Haefeli, the house leader in charge of the crew, says COVID not only affected the number of women participating but also the concept of only women building the house.

“Once COVID hit, we still didn’t have the roof on, not all of the walls were up and sealed up. They had to bring a contractor in to put on the roof, put the windows in, just so it (house) would be pretty much sealed,” she said. “We (women) didn’t get to do those kinds of things that we would normally do, which is kind of a bummer but you need to preserve the structure of the house, so it had to be done.”
Even though the crew couldn’t work on the house, they individually would drive by and check on the house.
“I would just see how it was coming up, see it under roof and it (the house) sat for a while. You couldn’t see wh
at was going on inside, so you just looked at the outside,” she said.

Once the contractor sealed up the house and restrictions were lifted for them to return to the site, the women were back on the job. Haefeli says the house’s exterior is basically done except for landscaping and building the shed in the backyard. They’ve now moved inside where they are currently working on installing subfloor for the laminate flooring.

“Unfortunately, we were told last week the cabinetry and the vinyl planking aren’t going to be here for about a month, so I don’t know what we’re going to be able to do after we get all the luans (subflooring) done,” she said.

Haefeli said the homeowner, who is required to work a certain number of hours on her home, came on Saturday and wanted to paint something in her new house.

“She got in the laundry room on Saturday and it was her first-time painting and she did a good job,” Haefeli said.
Terry High, another member of the Milton crew, is a veteran of Habitat builds having worked seven years on different building projects, with this being her fourth Women’s Build. She has worked on houses in Ellendale, Seaford, Selbyville, Georgetown and Milford.
She said this has been the most successful Women’s Build because women have shown up.

“Seriously, that is it,” High said. “We would have a lot of women on Day One (of other projects), and unfortunately most of them were working and they couldn’t come back. This one we’ve had consistent people coming. We’re getting to be a tight-knit group and that keeps you coming out.”

Lynn Welden totally agrees with High, saying it’s a blast working with her teammates. “We have a lot of fun and laughs together, and support each other. It’s fun to be around other people especially during COVID.”

Not getting to work during the shutdown was really hard on Welden for several reasons.

“I worried about the house, about the family that was moving in because of all the delays,” she said. “I just missed the purpose of coming out here.”