Habitat for Humanity builds houses on the Northshore. This month, their construction crews look a bit different than usual.
“Today is the kickoff for Women Build," says Jeff St. Romain, the Executive Director of Habitat’s St. Tammany West chapter. "Every October, we have a project where we invite teams of women — and also men — but primarily women come out and build. And it really empowers women and helps them see what we’re trying to do in this community to provide quality workforce housing.”
Women Build is part of a national program, and over the course of the next three months, three homes near Covington will be built, primarily by women volunteers. St. Romain says the women are terrific construction workers.
“We have a great construction crew that supervises people really closely, and we’ve been doing this for a number of years, and we find that in many cases, women are better at certain tasks than men. The point is, no, we have no problem with women building. They do a wonderful job. We’ve had women up on our roofs in harnesses doing roof work, women working the power saws. There’s probably no job we do that a woman cannot do,” says St. Romaine.
When asked if he has trouble getting women to volunteer for the construction work, he smiles and explains, “This project is our biggest volunteer project throughout the year. We’ll have several hundred volunteers come out here in the next four or five weeks.”
St. Romain says the families they build homes for come from all walks of life, but they all have something in common.
“They work at hospitals, one of the ladies we’re building for today works at Ochsner here. We’ve built for people who work in the insurance industry, restaurants, grocery stores, day care centers, hospitals, dentists’ offices — they’re the working people of the community. And we all think that, oh, well, they have a good place to live. But they don’t. In many cases, they’re living in conditions that are shocking,” he says.
Rebecca Jarrell will own one of the houses being built during this project. She says she enjoys the construction work, but it has another benefit, too.
“It’s fun, you get to actually build your family’s home and be part of it," she says. "And they teach you everything you need to know. That way, if something breaks after you move in, you should know how to repair it."
What part of the work is the hardest?
“Probably with the nail gun," Jarrell says. "I can do it, but if you get in certain angles, it’s heavy. And then I have trouble getting the nail going straight in; it kind of goes off to the side and I have to redo it.”
Jarrell fights with her emotions when asked what Habitat’s work means to her and her family.
“Everything has been a blessing from God; it’s like a dream come true for us. I’m more happy for my kids than I am myself, because they need it. They need a home they can finish growing up in. This means everything to our family; we don’t know what we would do to have a home. We’d probably still be renting, not a big enough place, being stressed about money and where we’re going to live. Now we won’t have to worry about that — we’ll have a stable place,” Jarrell says.
St. Romain says the whole project is very special to Habitat’s staff, but the dedication ceremonies have a special meaning to them.
“The dedications, for the staff, are really things that are like booster shots to say, okay, this is why we’re involved in this mission," he says. "Those ceremonies are so moving. You need to have a box of Kleenex when you have those things.”
Northshore Focus is made possible with the support of the Northshore Community Foundation.