BY PEGGY NEWELL
In the second week of May, volunteers will break ground on the Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity’s 11th Women Build home — a two-bedroom, one-bath house in Habitat’s Creekside subdivision in the Shiloh neighborhood.
Habitat for Humanity Charlotte planted the seed for Women Build when it completed its first all-women-built home in 1991. The Asheville affiliate followed suit in 1994, with women not only building the house but raising all the money. The handicapped-accessible home was purchased by a family that included four generations of women. Four years later, Women Build was officially established as a program of Habitat for Humanity International. The Asheville affiliate ramped up its Women Build program again in 2007, and our dedicated volunteers have built a house a year since then.
Today, Habitat affiliates worldwide take part in the Women Build program, and women travel around the world to participate. Asheville Area Habitat hosted its first Women Build-focused Global Village Team in 2014. Women came to Asheville from as far away as Saudi Arabia to volunteer for a week on our ninth house. Asheville resident Tricia Franck, a member of the Women Build leadership team, coordinated the group, going the extra mile to give them a total Asheville experience. They were entertained by Wild Bodema, an all-women West African drum group; they also toured Biltmore Estate, took a bus tour and, of course, ate well, while spending most of their days on the job site.
Franck and her husband, Charlie, have been involved with 13 Global Village trips here and overseas. “It’s travel with a purpose,” says Tricia, who’s led GV trips in Nepal, Bali and Asheville. “Not every affiliate has construction supervisors with the wherewithal to handle 10-15 volunteers, whose skill levels vary, and engage them for five to six building days. We are fortunate to have that skill set here.” Besides paying to come here and covering their own room and board, each GV team member also makes a donation to the local Habitat affiliate. Accommodations tend to be pretty basic, but the experience is what it’s all about.
Here in Asheville, the effort is led by the Women Build Advocacy Team, aka the WomBATs. Besides volunteering on the job site themselves, team members organize the wall-raising and key-passing ceremonies, recruit volunteers, and help with fundraising and community outreach. A lot of WomBATs have been part of the leadership team for many years. Volunteers, too, often return year after year.
Construction supervisor Robin Clark says she “was tracked down by former Executive Director Lew Kraus to lead the first Women Build in 1994. He came back to me in 2007, when Asheville Area Habitat decided to do another Women Build house.”
Until recently, she had a contracted assistant; current WomBATs Muffi Brown and Claudia Cady have both served in that capacity. Both came to Women Build at the request of Clark, who knew them as capable members of the local construction community. Now, they’re volunteers. And on one auspicious day last year, four of the five former construction assistants volunteered on the build.
Women Build is a win-win situation: Women gain experience and confidence working on a project alongside other female volunteers, and a family gets the rare opportunity to purchase a safe, affordable home. Volunteer slots for the current home are available between May 17 and July 16. At noon on Friday, May 6, we’ll hold a celebration of National Women Build Week at the job site (1000 W. Chapel Road in Shiloh). And on Friday, May 13 (a lucky day indeed), we’ll celebrate this year’s kickoff event: the wall-raising. It will be the start of another wonderful Women Build season, and we invite you to join us for these events or for a volunteer day at the job site.
To learn more about the local Women Build program, or to volunteer or make a donation, visit ashevillehabitat.org. The Women Build blog is at aahhwomenbuild.wordpress.com.