DC Habitat for Humanity
A Volunteer Experience
By: Jerry Ellis, Jr.
DC Habitat for Humanity (DCHFH) is based in Washington, D.C., and the organization is just one of many local chapters HFH International has throughout the world. DCHFH sells homes to families who are ineligible for conventional financing. Prospective homeowners must contribute 300 hours of volunteer work before becoming eligible for homeownership. A portion of these volunteer hours (also known as “sweat equity”) must be from the construction of their own home or other DCHFH homes and completed within a certain timeframe.
So, where does my journey begin with DCHFH? In September of 2004, a coworker introduced me to the organization. Initially, I became involved with the recycling committee. On that committee, we collected plastic bottles, scrap metal, and vinyl siding from the site and took the material to a recycling center, so that the construction area and neighborhood stay clean. Within a month of joining DCHFH, I decided to enter the family partnership program with a prospective homeowner named Vicky. As a family partner, my primary responsibility was to support Vicky and her young son, through the home-buying process, and help her complete those required 300 “sweat equity” hours.
For a period of 9 months, I volunteered on the construction site on Saturday mornings. Sometimes I brought friends and colleagues from work with me to help build homes and I am grateful for their kind service to the organization. My experience has been life-changing for me. When I volunteered there was no equipment such as a backhoe to dig a ditch. With a shovel and faith that I would get through it, I dug a ditch to lay a PVC water pipe alongside of a house. That was not fun, but it taught me that many people in the world don’t have a choice between a backhoe and shovel. The only choice they have is between an old shovel and a better shovel. I learned how to do framing on the exterior of houses and a little bit of drywall. Painting was fun and it was a reassuring reminder that there was “light at the end of the tunnel”. After 300 hours of “sweat equity” Vicky and I had a solid appreciation for those who construct houses for a living. We were also grateful for the other volunteers who put the finishing touches on Vicky’s house and made it ready for occupancy.
I met so many kind people, and I have been truly inspired by the family partnership. I never saw life the same way as I did prior to my DCHFH volunteer experience. One of the best feelings I've ever had in life was on the day of settlement. At the closing table, I was touched by some special words that have never left me. I told Vicky that I was so happy for her, and she replied “I am happy too, more than you will ever know.”