Jun 1, 2023

Building a House, Building a Life


or the tenth year, Gulf Coast women will soon kickoff the process of building hope for a fellow area woman. Pensacola’s annual Habitat for Humanity Women Build commences June 16 with a breakfast followed by construction training, fundraising and the culmination –build days in September when more than 150 builders put hammer to nail and saw to wood. Teams gather again to landscape the pristine new home in the fall. Women on at least 15 teams each fundraise $500through volunteer opportunities provided by Habitat or individual initiatives. It’s a mission that has been gaining interest since Pensacola Habitat launched Women Build in 2014.“Our goal began as 15 teams of 10, but we’ve exceeded that goal the past couple of years,” said Quinn Luehring of Pensacola’s Habitat for Humanity. “Last year we had about 170 women builders! We’re flexible– people can choose to participate as individuals or as a team of any size. The only requirement is that each participant raise $500 to go towards the Women Build goal of $100,000.”

Pensacola habitat for Humanity Women Build celebrates its tenth year in 2023.

BUILDING FOUNDATIONS & FAMILIES Those involved in the process describe it as a win-win life changer for everyone. “We frequently hear stories from our homeowners of adults returning back to higher education and receiving their degree, their children’s grades improve and the families’ overall quality of life improve because of it,” said Luehring. For Kolleen Chesley, who heads up Powerful Women of the Gulf Coast, working alongside the woman who would inhabit the home they both helped construct in2022 was profound. “Our team got a chance to meet her and meet her son, which kind of brings everything full circle – when you not only get to work with the organization, but you also get to meet the person who is receiving the benefit of our efforts. And just seeing how her story changed. That was the first home anybody in her family had ever purchased. So, to be able to see her receiving that was so impactful. We use the phrase in our organization ‘touch the work.’ So that’s an example of being able to touch the work. Not only are you physically working on the house, but you’re physically engaging with the person who is going to be owning that house and seeing the impact of that. ”In addition to building up a community, women builders experience the rush of operating a power saw!

POWER TOOLS & SWEAT EQUITY Chesley’s team showed up at last year’s build looking “really scared.” But by the end of the day, they were pink power builders. “To watch our members who had never done things like construction or volunteering in that capacity, to watch the amount of confidence they had by the end of the day – to me that was really neat. Some of the women just were giddy when it came to the power saw,” she said. “I thought that was pretty cool to see our members embrace a skill that they’d never tried before and then do it and then see how empowered they felt – that was unexpected. I didn’t  realize that would be part of it.” In addition to labor hours from volunteers, carefully vetted home buyers are required to invest 200 hours of “sweat equity,” explained Luehring, meaning volunteers and home buyers often rub shoulders. Last year’s homebuyer worked a full-time job while raising a young son and putting in volunteer hours. What began in 1991 when a group of women in Charlotte completed the first women-built Habitat for Humanity house is now firmly rooted on the Gulf Coast, transforming the lives of homebuyers and volunteers, said Luehring.“The program continued to grow across international borders, empowering women everywhere to address poverty housing for themselves, their families and their neighbors.