Diary of a Blitz
I'm sitting at my desk, and I'm reading the
latest issue of Fine Homebuilding when the bold
print of an ad catches my eye. "DO YOU LIKE A
CHALLENGE?" it says. (Well, yeah, sort of...) I
read on. Habitat for Humanity is planning to
build 30 houses in one week at each of two
separate sites. (No way! ... Yes way!) That's 30
homes in Americus, Georgia, in June 1994 and
another 30 in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, in July
1994. "Volunteers needed! Call for more
information." I call.
Thursday, June 9, 1994
I arrive home from my current project, a nice
kitchen remodel in a North Oakland, California,
bungalow. I'm a little stressed because I have to
get the job ready for drywall and a lot of stuff
ordered before leaving for Americus on
Saturday. Once I arrive there, thankfully,
someone else has to do all the thinking and
planning while I just swing my hammer. It'll be
a nice break.
Entering my office, I see my answering
machine flashing. I press the playback button.
"Hi Dave, this is Ted. Due to a last-minute
cancellation, we are in dire need of a house
leader here in Americus next week. Would you
mind taking that position? Thanks."
So here's the deal: Each house is assigned
about 25 people. They are split up into four
crews, each with an assigned crew leaders. The
four crew leaders report to the house leader,
basically the project manager for that house.
Build a house in five days? Sure, no problem.
Do it all the time. So much for that break.
Sunday, June 12
I'm sitting in the gymnasium at Georgia
Southwestern University in Americus with
about 1,300 other volunteers, people from all
over the country and some from even farther
It's an inspiring turnout. These people have
expended lots of effort and expense to be here
to accomplish something good.
After introductions and welcomes by the
Habitat staff, we break up into the crews for our
respective houses. After three days' notice, I am
the leader for house No.24. "Hi crew. My name
is Dave. I'm your house leaded and I don't
really have a clue ... or even a set of plans for
that matter." I can tell that I've won their
confidence and respect. Motivation and
leadership skills are oozing from my pores- or
maybe it's just that Southern humidity.
Hot. Humid. Hard work. Long day.
Our goals today: Frame walls, roll roof trusses,
sheath walls and roof, and roll out roof felt
(about two and a half weeks' worth of work, by
my estimation). Each day has a set of critical
tasks to accomplish to enable subcontractors to
come in and get their work done during the
night. Tonight, the electricians and plumbers
will be here to rough in.
We're not quite keeping pace with the other
framing crews, and by early afternoon it's
apparent that we're falling behind. Fortunately,
reinforcements are sent to help out. Help
comes from crews that are on or ahead of
schedule and some folks that just run around
assisting those in need. Even with the extra
hands, a few of us are still on the roof well into
the night trying to get the sheathing done. It's
not going to happen tonight, but at least it won't
hold up the subs. It's 11 p.m. Let's go home.
Hot. Humid. Hard work. Long day.
Plumbing and electrical are roughed in. I
have a crew working on the roof, one on siding
and a couple on drywall, which is today's
critical task. The tapers will be here tonight.
Again, by early afternoon, it's getting to be
panic time. The other crews come in to help
hang rock. Extra hands come from all around to
help hang rock. We now have 30 to 35 bodies in
an 1,100 sq. ft. house hanging drywall. Did I
mention the heat and humidity? We're out by
9:30 tonight; we must be getting faster.
Wednesday, Thursday, Friday
More heat. More humidity. More hard work. More long days.
My crew is awesome. Whatever these men
and women lack in experience they make up
for in enthusiasm, We are all here with one goal
in mind: Let's get this house built!
The logistics of this project are astounding.
I'm tempted to say "unimaginable," but
someone dared to imagine, and here we are.
Five days. We built a house. It's not quite 100%
done, but what project is? A little more paint,
some landscaping and a good cleanup.
Veronica, her mother and her three children
have a place of their own to call home. So do 29
other low-income families.
Habitat for Humanity called it the 30/30,000
Blitz Build. The goal of the protect was to build
30 new homes, among them Habitat's 30,000th
house worldwide. Impressive by any measure.
These houses, however, are not given away.
Homeowner families invest sweat equity into
the construction of their home or of other
Habitat houses and receive a no-profit, interest-
free loan to buy a home. The 30/30,000 is
Habitat's most ambitious project to date.
I learned a lot this week. I've never
considered myself much of a leader, and at the
outset I wasn't. By the end of the week, though,
I was beginning to learn. Good leadership
requires confidence, thoughtful decisions, the
ability to listen to those being led and the ability
to motivate. I have a little more of all these now
than I had a week ago.
Without a doubt, I had one of the hardest
workweeks of my life. I traveled across the
country, worked somewhere between 70 and
75 hours in five days, sweated away 5 lb. or 10 lb.
and paid them to let me do it. Me and more
than 1,300 others. Would I do it again? You bet!
-David Yonenaka, Oakland, California
from page 134 Fine Homebuilding Issue #94 Spring 1995
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