When the Cape Cod Chapter of Habitat for
Humanity International met the Dennis Junior Woman’s Club the first Women’s Build,
all women Habitat blitz construction project in Massachusetts, was born.
Spearheaded by Dennis Juniors’ Vice President and Cape Cod Habitat for Humanity
chapter board member Paula Whitcomb, the project, which had been brewing
for almost a year and half, began to take shape last February.
95 women showed up for a public meeting
to explore the project. The group broke up into committees out of which
fundraising and product donation solicitation efforts were launched. The
group needed to raise $40,000 in cash as well as encourage local businesses
and national manufacturers to donate a significant percentage of the building
materials. They also needed to find a site – and, if possible, secure its
donation from either the municipality or private citizen who owned it.
Habitat for Humanity International is a
nonprofit, ecumenical Christian housing ministry dedicated to eliminating
substandard housing and making decent shelter a matter of conscience and
action. Habitat has built nearly 60,000 homes worldwide. Volunteers work
with future homeowners to build or renovate houses, which are then sold
to partner families at no profit, with no interest charged on the 15-20
year mortgage. The money from the sale of each house goes into a revolving
Fund for Humanity, to support future building projects.
efforts included a raffle, an auction, a restaurant tasting event, and a
“men’s bake sale and baked goods auction”. Local celebrities from
state representatives to police chiefs to Bob Vila himself donated home
baked cakes and goodies to the auction which garnered over $1,100 for the
Build. Members of the Dennis Juniors solicited donations from local church
groups, businesses, civic organizations and friends.
The women drew up a mission statement with
the following goals:
- Increase awareness of Habitat for Humanity’s
- Raise $40,000
- Build the confidence, skills, and pride
of the women contributing their time and energy.
- Be positive role models for young women.
The women considered themselves very lucky
to find licensed contractor Paula MacNiece, a 17 year veteran of the construction
business, to supervise the Build and oversee the volunteers whose numbers
had grown to nearly 200. A training program for
volunteers was set up in conjunction with another Cape Habitat project in
May. Approximately 50 women got their feet wet working at the the Marstons
Mills site under the direction of Don Dickinson. As their comfort level
grew, so did their excitement.
With the September build date looming closer
one major hurdle had yet to be met — acquisition of the land. The originally
proposed site in Dennisport was defeated at a town meeting. New sites were
scouted and finally — on July 31st — arrangements were finalized for the
donation of town-owned land in the village of Harwich. Permits were pulled
and pre-construction work was set to begin.
early August on one of the hottest weekends of the summer, a dozen volunteers
cleared the land. 112 trees were cut down, branches were chipped, logs cut
and stacked. Arrangements were made for licensed contractors – excavation,
foundation, plumbing, and electrical – to add their expertise to the project.
Materials were ordered and deliveries coordinated.
Habitat selected the family – Jay and Karen
Hindle and their four young children – from a long list of applicants. The
Hindles, who have lived on Cape Cod for five years, have spent the last
two shuttling between motels and friends’ homes unable to find permanent
housing. To be approved, applicants must be able to meet monthly payments
ranging from $350 to $450 but be unable to qualify for a conventional mortgage.
They also have to agree to work a specified number of hours on “their”
home as well as contribute their time to future Habitat projects.
took place on August 10. The hole was dug, forms went in and the foundation
was poured on August 12. Once set, a crew of volunteers sealed the foundation.
On Saturday, August 23, work began in earnest.
50-plus women, many of them raw novices, arrived with hammers in hand and
set about to cap the basement. It was a learning process for everyone. The
site was abuzz with activity as one group worked feverishly to fabricate
the main beam while another assembled the necessary lumber to begin building
the window jacks and headers for the exterior walls. Experienced volunteers
used power tools to saw lumber and help Paula MacNiece direct the crew.
At mid-morning the entire crew stopped for
a break. A local pastor share fitting Bible verses and devotional readings.
The spiritual side of the project became evident. After a short rest and
refreshments, work started back up.
When the main beam was completed, it was
carried to the edge of the foundation. Women crowded along the sidewalls
and tentatively rolled the beam across the edge of
foundation wall until it came to rest — set in the beam pockets — spanning
the length of the 28 by 40 foot foundation hole.
With the main beam in, the pace again picked
up as first the joists went in and then the subfloor was built on top of
them. Admist the cacaphony of hammers, the excitement and enthusiasm was
palpable. More experienced do-it-yourselfers helped the first-timers with
hammering technique and other basic skills. Before long even the beginners
were talking about “crowning” boards and “snapping lines”.
As time passed, confidence grew, and although Saturday ran into Sunday before
the basement was finally capped, the first weekend of work left the volunteers
The official start of the two-week blitz built
was scheduled for Saturday, September 6. 75 volunteers attended Friday night’s
kick-off potluck supper at the site. The morning dawned sunny and bright
and a large crew of volunteers showed up early to start work. Today was
the big day — the day the walls would be raised and the house would begin
to take shape. Volunteers worked all morning framing the sidewalls, nailing
on the plywood and then the Typar moisture barrier. On the side, women were
building the interior partitions that would be moved into the house before
the final exterior wall went up. After lunch as many women as could fit,
lined up to literally raise the walls. Under Paula MacNiece’s direction
the crew heaved as one and the house emerged. Work began on the front and
back walls and continued into the evening.
The roof trusses went up Sunday morning. Work
proceeded steadily but slowly. When the trusses were up, lines were snapped
along the top chord, and by mid-day it was time to start putting up the
strapping. Hours of hammering over one’s head were tiring but satisfying
as well. Respect – even awe – for friends in the construction trades heightened.
This was very hard work! Meanwhile, women with no vertigo climbed high up
on scaffolding and began plywooding the roof. At day’s end the roof was
closed in but there was still more strapping to go. The project was running
a little behind schedule but spirits were high.
Monday started where Sunday left off as volunteers
finished the strapping. The interior partitions were put in and suddenly
the home began to take shape. Exterior trim – soffits, facia and corner
boards – was the next order of business. Greenhorns learned that soffits
must be in place before the roofing could begin. Roofing work included nailing
up tar paper, putting up the drip edge which would act as an ice and water
barrier, and then, of course, shingling the roof. While the roofing crew
worked on high, those more comfortable closer to the ground began to put
in windows and construct the exterior window trim.
Licensed contractors handled the rough electrical
and plumbing, while the volunteer crew finished shingling the roof and put
in the ridge vent. Hordes of shinglers attacked the house from all four
sides at once and by day’s end nearly half the job was completed. Footings
for the back deck were poured and the exterior doors were put in. When Bob
Vila’s website crew heard that the project still needed insulation, they
called Bob’s friends at Owens-Corning and asked if they could help. The
insulation giant, a committed supporter of Habitat for Humanity, bent over
backwards to oblige. Rolls and rolls of the “pink
stuff” arrived Tuesday afternoon just in time for Wednesday morning’s
While shingling efforts finished up outdoors,
the insulating crew got down to business inside.
Two volunteers climbed up into the attic and carefully laid the O-C R-30
insulation on the strapping while a third straightened the edges from a
ladder below. O-C R-13 insulation was trimmed to fit and placed between
the studs of the exterior walls and, that done, the basement insulation
was put into place. Landscaping efforts got underway in earnest around the
perimeter of the lot and framing work began on the deck.
Sheetrocking contractors directed the volunteer
crew inside while those handy with a paint brush got started on the exterior
trim. Finishing touches were put on the deck and landscaping efforts continued
to progress. Now a little ahead of schedule, the women took a deep breath
and left the site by midafternoon for the first time since the blitz began.
The day began early with the volunteer crew
laying down rosin paper to protect the subfloors. Plastering contractors
arrived right on time to put the skimcoat on the drywall and women moved
outdoors. For yet another day, stormy weather forecasts proved wrong and,
as the sun came out, the landscaping continued to take shape. Another coat
of paint was applied to the exterior trim, and by day’s end,
it was almost impossible to believe that only one week ago a
potluck supper had been served — buffet style — on the capped deck that
was now growing into a home.
With a full Saturday morning crew on board,
the underlayment quickly went down throughout the house. Next on deck was
installation of the interior trim. As the thrust switched from rough to
finish carpentry, the pace slowed but enthusiasm remained high. This was
an entirely new ball game. Window and door trim was painstakingly built.
Mitered corners had to match just so. Nails were carefully pounded in,
then set with a nail set (a wonder tool that came in three different sizes!).
Puttiers followed the carpenters with caulkers and then sanders trailing
after. Hanging doors proved to be a lot trickier than it looked. It required
precision — and patience — or the door wouldn’t swing correctly. The
bathroom linen closet door took three women almost as long it had taken
to close in the roof! Outside there was more paint to go on the exterior
trim and landscaping efforts were picking up steam.
Sunday brought more interior trim work. Slowly
and meticulously more doors were framed and hung. Baseboard trim
was installed throughout the house. The mysteries of bifold closet door
installation were unraveled. Closet poles and shelf brackets were carefully
attached. Paula MacNiece handled some of more delicate jobs herself — trimming
the hall ceiling hatch into the attic and making sure the insulated hatch
cover fit just right. Once installed the trim was lightly sanded and then
the painting work began. Outside, the final coat of paint was applied to
the exterior trim and the landscaping work continued. At the afternoon work
break Paula Whitcomb announced that not only had the ongoing fundraising
efforts met their goal of $40,000 but that, as of that morning, the total
now stood at $42,000. The crew broke up early — by 4 pm — preparing for
the busy final week ahead.
Monday morning the brushes and rollers came
out in force. Painting would be the name of the game for the next few days.
Walls, doors, and ceilings needed to be primed and painted. Interior trim
was ready for the first topcoat. For the sake of simplicity everything would
be painted white. Karen and Jay had selected vinyl for the kitchen and bathroom
floors and wall to wall carpeting for the remainder of the house. Monday
afternoon the vinyl installer laid the flooring and the electrician returned
to put in outlets and deliver fixtures. Volunteers from Cape Cod Regional
Technical High School’s horticulture program joined the crew on Monday to
help with landscaping duties.
While the Cape Cod Tech students returned to
help volunteers regrade the yard, painting continued inside. With speckled
eyeglasses and white streaked hair, the crew applied another topcoat to
the interior trim and toiled on with the walls and ceilings. The electrician
returned to install ceiling fixtures and late in the day the kitchen cabinets
arrived for Wednesday’s scheduled installation.
With a volunteer crew of about 25 in force,
work progressed at a steady pace. Painting continued in the bedrooms and
bath. Under Paul MacNiece’s exacting direction, the cabinets were installed
in the kitchen. The job took all morning and was an exercise in patience
but the results proved well worth the efforts. Cape Cod Tech volunteers
were joined by students from Nauset Regional High School and the week long
landscaping marathon really began to come together. Loam was spread, raked,
readied for hydroseeding. A verdant array of donated plants and shrubs were
lovingly planted. The crew put in the flagstone walk and gravel for the
driveway was delivered and spread. Suddenly, there was form and structure
The light at the end of tunnel was shining
brightly. The carpeting arrived Thursday morning, and it was truly sensational
— a marled seafoam for the livingroom, pink, teal and and a brilliant cobalt
for the three bedrooms. Inside, the countertops were installed in the kitchen
and on the bathroom vanity. The appliances arrived and were set into place.
A final coat of paint was applied in the bathroom. Outside, the gutters
went up and work commenced on the front steps. The students were back in
classes, but the volunteer crew added a few last minute touches to the landscaping
work. The day ended early and on a bittersweet note with the knowledge that
Friday would be the final day of work.
This was it — D-day! There were lots of odds
and ends to attend to and the crew of 25 kept busy scurrying from project
to project. The front and rear steps were finished. Interior doors, removed
for painting and carpeting, had to be rehung. After a careful inspection,
paint was touched up wherever necessary. Drills came out one last time to
put up the shutters. Window screens went back up. The carpets were vacuumed
and the house cleaned. Outside, the hydroseeding company sprayed on the
lawn and, at last, the landscaping was finished. By day’s end the job was
done and the Hindles’ home was ready.
Tools and tables were packed up. Volunteers, many of whom had met for
the first time two weeks ago, said goodbye. The overwhelming sense of satisfaction
was tinged slightly with the sadness of farewell. Everyone talked about
“the next house”.
It was a perfect Sunday afternoon. The sun
shone brightly and the air was crisp with the coming fall. The crowd of
nearly a hundred people streamed onto the new gravel driveway for the dedication
ceremony. Along with many of the volunteers who had participated in the
build and representatives of the Cape Cod Chapter of Habitat for Humanity International,
local dignitaries swelled the ranks — Congressman Bill Delahunt, State
Representative Tom George, and Harwich Selectman Peter Luddy. The ceremony
was short and poignant. It became evident that building this home was as
spiritually fulfilling as it was physically challenging for all involved.
With every nail (and there many, many nails pounded as everyone had
the chance to hone their skills) confidence grew and spirits soared, friendships
blossomed and a home took shape. When Karen Hindle accepted the keys to
her family’s new home from Habitat family partner Paula Hogan eyes misted
with joy throughout the crowd. It was the culmination of a job well done
and surely the beginning of many more to come.
At the reception following the ceremony, project coordinator Paula Whitcomb
announced that with fundraising efforts garnering $44,500 and the tremendous
success of the product donation committee, the Dennis Juniors expected to
cap the project with a $7000 donation to Habitat for Humanity. The twelve
members of the Dennis Junior Woman’s Club were proud indeed. It was “the
little engine that could” — the realization of a dream — living proof
that with perseverance, determination, hard work, and lots of heart — a
small group of individuals could make a big difference. It was a triumph
of the human spirit and an inspiration for others — around the the Cape
and around the country.