Volume 2 Number 10
Hands on Experience
01 November 1989

In one week, 20 houses had been built for low income families who could never have dreamed of owning a house were it not for Habitat.
This time, instead of merely reporting on a Habitat event, I had been part of it. I had been one of the crew on house 48 of the `Jimmy Carter Work Project, 1988' in Atlanta, Georgia. In one week, 20 houses had been built for low income families who could never have dreamed of owning a house were it not for Habitat.

I didn't want to walk away. It was `my house'. James and Janice Smith were now the true owners, of course, but in between the studs and the sheetrock of the walls, behind the kitchen cabinets and underneath the shingles on the roof, there was and still is a part of me and of my fellow crew members.

We had seen the excitement of the Smiths and their four children on the Monday, when the frames for the walls were hammered into place, and watched it grow into a warm glow of love and joy. By Friday, when the final touches of paint were applied, there were very few dry eyes. We all felt it: a partnership had been created.

We lingered for a while, exchanging addresses, admiring our work. The staccato shots of hundreds of hammers and the buzzing of power saws had been replaced by the sounds of birds singing and children playing. Janice was measuring the windows for curtains. The two girls were in their bedroom, decorating. Then the buses arrived to take the volunteers away.

As a reporter I consciously look for stories of people who are attempting to create positive changes in the world, through development projects, peace efforts, health work. I like to think my stories help, but I'm often left with the feeling that whatever contribution I've made is only temporary. That home I helped build is different. It's tangible and solid. It'll be there for my lifetime and beyond.

I could go on and on about the hundreds of volunteers who gave up vacation time or took unpaid leave to make it all possible. I could tell you about the home-owners, one of whom was homeless only days before, another in a wheelchair beaming as she helped a former president of the United States to build her new home. Others are now making plans which they once thought impossible dreams -for a college education, for instance.

Instead I'll quote a fellow crew member, who also does volunteer work at a shelter for the homeless in Atlanta. `At the shelter,' he says, `with a hot meal and a warm bed, we can help someone for a night. Here at this Habitat project, we're changing lives.'

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