The Strength of Women
A Habitat for Humanity volunteer group puts women to work across West Virginia, one hammer at a time.
Single mom Laura Blevins, of Lewisburg, and her four young children never have to move or spend time in a homeless shelter again.
Thanks to Greenbrier County’s first Women Build project, a joint venture between Habitat for Humanity of West Virginia and Almost Heaven Habitat for Humanity, the Blevins finally moved into a home of their own in May 2011. “The Almost Heaven Habitat for Humanity Women Build was a life-changing experience for my children and me,” Laura says. “During the build, they would talk about how the house would be filled with laughter and homework. That’s exactly how it is. The children love their rooms and the home that we have been blessed to have.”
Laura’s house was the first to be built by all women in Lewisburg. “It was a lot of hard work mixed with a lot of bad weather, but I had a blast doing it,” says Rebecca Gaujot, a volunteer with the project.
Women Build was founded in 1991 in Charlotte, North Carolina, as part of Habitat for Humanity. The idea was presented to First Lady Rosalyn Carter. The program is made up of only female volunteers, and has spread across the U.S. and more than 30 countries. More than 20 years after the program began, 18 Women Build projects have been completed in West Virginia, says Lora Pierce, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of West Virginia. “The experience of being on an all-woman build is very rewarding, not only from a personal point of view, but also from the perspective of joining together with other women to change people’s lives,” Lora says.
Women don’t need to be construction experts or have ever even picked up a hammer to participate in the builds. Training is available, and supervisors are there to help. The only requirement is to want to help a neighbor. The group is building another Women Build home this year in White Sulphur Springs around Mother’s Day.
At 65 years old, Rebecca volunteered every Saturday for the Lewisburg build. Despite her husband’s wishes, she was always up on the roof pounding boards or laying shingles. “The work continued rain or shine,” she says. She recalls one Saturday when it was very windy. Rebecca and volunteer Josalyn Hannah were trying to hand 4-by-8 foot boards to two other women on the roof. “It was like a kite trying to take off in the wind,” Rebecca says. “I thought for sure it was going to fall on us.” That day, the four women completed a quarter of the roof on their own. “After doing a little dance with the wind, we finally got all of the boards up on the roof.”
From hauling boards to nailing shingles, the hard work persists. Rebecca remembers laying the last row of shingles for the Blevins. “It was a laborious job. I tore a hole in my sweatpants as I dragged myself across the shingles,” she says. “But I’d do it all over again.”
From Monday to Saturday, volunteers worked from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. for nine straight weeks installing windows, hanging siding and drywall, and framing bathtubs and closets. Women from across the state came to participate, including girl scouts, college students, and women from other walks of life. The Greenbrier County project was completed and the house was blessed on Friday, May 13, 2011. “It was so rewarding to see the finished result and the looks on those kids’ faces,” Rebecca says. “Volunteering gives you the opportunity to change lives, including your own.”