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Habitat for Humanity: We Came, We Saw, We Blitzed!

Habitat for Humanity
We Came, We Saw, We Blitzed!
by William L. Bulla

Wearing bright orange shirts emblazoned with the slogan "We Came, We Saw, We Blitzed," volunteers, more than175 in number, approached two empty lots on a rainy April 23rd morning and put two houses under roof in three days!
When Sherry Brown-Cooper said "We're going to put two houses under roof in three days" at a March meeting of the Board of Directors and volunteers for Habitat for Humanity of Washington County there was much skepticism about the project.
She then turned the meeting over to Tom Gerdy, builder and Habitat volunteer from Lynchburg, Virginia. Mr. Gerdy has traveled to numerous states as a Habitat volunteer to help conduct "Blitz Builds," where several homes are built in a limited time frame.
And, that is what he projected for Hagerstown!
Captured by his enthusiasm, the local Habitat volunteers made plans to put two houses under roof in the period from April 23 through 25. The homes were to be erected on Vickie Drive in the Gateway Crossing development. This location for the homes was selected because of a partnership between Habitat and the Hagerstown Housing Authority, City of Hagerstown, Penrose Properties LLC, Harkins Builders, Interfaith Housing Alliance, and Community Action Council. One of the house sponsors was to be First Data Merchant Services, and the other, the Women Build program. Women Build workers were to receive basic skills training from the local Lowe's store.
Mr. Gerdy shared his excitement about the Hagerstown build with volunteers in other states where he has conducted "Blitz Builds." He refers to this group of volunteers as "Road Trippers." "These volunteers pay their own travel and living expenses while on these builds. Their compensation is seeing the happy faces of another family getting a new home," he said.
Enthusiasm began to build! As the news of the activity spread, more and more people called in to volunteer their time, talents, and services. The Sheraton Four Points housed the "Road Trippers" as reduced rates. Calls came in offering construction materials and services. Luncheon food and snacks were donated to feed the volunteers and keep them energized. There was an over-whelming enthusiasm and response to the call for volunteers.
Then came the first day of the build... April 23. It was raining, but at 8 o'clock that morning, more than 175 volunteers arrived and looked at two cement slabs. Then the work began! Tom Gerdy and his assistant supervisors had crews of 4 and 5 people moving to his direction. He had choreographed it perfectly. He mixed local volunteers with the experienced "Road Trippers" from 11 states, D.C. and 7 cities in Virginia... 70 in all! Within minutes the sides were going up on two houses at the same time. In a short time, crews were working inside the house putting in partitions to form the rooms. At the same time other crews were putting plywood on the outside walls As soon as this was in place a crew began to hang the vinyl siding while others began to mount the roof trusses on one of the houses. Then the crews laid the plywood sheeting on the trusses, and by the time they were in place, the siding crews had completely encased one of the houses. The Women Built house was not as far along when the rain began again in the afternoon. But great things had been accomplished on the first day.
By the end of the blitz, the homes were under roof, covered with vinyl siding, with doors, and windows installed. Local volunteers will now do the interior projects of flooring, painting, lighting, carpeting, cabinetry in the bath and kitchen areas, and perhaps some drywall. Then they will be turned over to their new owners, two single mothers. Both women were working on their homes as part of their commitment to perform 500 sweat equity hours on Habitat projects. They were thrilled at the speed in which their new homes were being erected.
Tom Gerdy lovingly refers to the Road Trippers as "Crazies." "You guys travel great distances to work with people you might never see again. You spend your own money and often take off from regular jobs to work even harder. Does that mean you're crazy? Well, maybe a little," he said. "But you know what these blitz builds accomplish. The change is not just for a family, but a small piece of the community changes and each one who participates is changed. We think we're going to give, and we receive many times over."
The local "Blitz Build" is part of a major statewide campaign, "Building Homes; Rebuilding Lives" designed to showcase Habitat for Humanity as a non-profit organization providing unique opportunities for young and old, skilled and unskilled to help build homes and rebuild lives. The campaign is designed to raise public awareness of Habitat in celebration of the 700th home built in the state since Habitat came to Maryland in 1982. The campaign is seeking to attract new sponsors, find available land, and recruit volunteers throughout the State in order to build another 300 homes by the year 2008.
"You've seen the show, "Extreme Makeover" on TV, well, we've done something just as exciting here in Hagerstown," said Brown-Cooper. "It's really exciting!"
Habitat For Humanity of Washington County, an ecumenical Christian housing ministry, is a volunteer-based organization. It addresses the most basic of human needs, a place to live and grow, by providing decent, affordable housing for low-income families. For more information call 301-791-9009.

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