Editor's note: Muncie’s Habitat for Humanity does not release the last names of their affiliate partners to protect domestic abuse survivors and promote a peaceful community.
Dark blue clouds cover the sun as the October wind picks up the coconut logs outside 713 E. Willard St. The light sprinkle is a relief to the grime and sweat but can be bad news for the hog’s pen in place of a front yard.
The ankle-deep mud is ignored as it’s stomped into the dusty subfloor littered with metal ladders. The sound of constant hammers, drills and the kind of mechanical vibrations that feel like they interfere with your brainwaves echo between houses like a community windchime.
The construction site sounds normal enough, and no inclement weather is deterring the hard workers from meeting their timeline. However, 713 E. Willard St. is different. The footprints in the mud display the hard work the community's female volunteers have put into this house, building it from the ground up.
Through DIY-home renovation videos and other programs, women continue to empower each other in the construction field, and Muncie’s affiliated sector with Habitat for Humanity has aimed to help empower and inform women since 2001. The women’s build is part of a larger group of themed builds the organization puts on to help bring community volunteers together.
Eileen Oaks Molter, Muncie’s Habitat for Humanity director for resource management since March 2020, has been hands-on with 713 E. Willard St. from the beginning of the project.
“These themed builds are groups of like-minded people who come together to fundraise and to build a house,” Oaks Molter said.
The organization has hosted themed builds in the past, including an interfaith build, and plans to host a veterans-themed build later this year.
The latest women’s build house began in September 2021, which has hosted 13 groups of women to volunteer and build confidence when it comes to working with their hands. These groups range from a community Zumba class to bank tellers to office workers.
“Women Build empowers women to step out of their comfort zone, to fundraise and build,” Oaks Molter said. “As the women come together to learn new skills, they also get to interact with other teams, volunteers and our partner families. Each Habitat home is a beacon of hope in our community and a testament of the great things that can happen when we work together.”
On top of volunteering their time, the women fundraised at their day jobs to help fund the supplies for the house. On Oct. 29, 2021, the First Financial Bank came out to volunteer for the day, fundraising $5,300 through bake sales and Jean Fridays — opportunities to dress casually on Friday for a small donation. The bank met the women’s amount and surprised Muncie’s Habitat for Humanity by donating an extra $20,000 the day of volunteering.
The program raised $63,000 total in 2021 — the themed build’s biggest donation year yet.
The house is primarily built by the women in these groups, with few exceptions for plumbing, electrical and roofing materials and labor, donated by Bone Dry Roofing and Corning Shingles. Muncie’s Tuesday and Thursday crew, made up of skilled volunteers, also help move the house along, though there is no set date for when it will be done yet.
Jay Earehart, site supervisor, accompanies the groups and has worked with Muncie’s Habitat for Humanity for seven years. Originally from Farmland, Indiana, Earehart always wanted to volunteer more for the organization but could never find time until his wife submitted his resumé behind his back. Having worked for Habitat for a while, Earehart realized how important the neighbors of communities can be in the construction process.
“Your best assets are your neighbors — they keep an eye on your product, even if some neighbors are reluctant to associate with you because they've been in situations like that,” Earehart said. “I'll find something in their house that I can fix to get on their good side. Now, everybody around the neighborhood knows me, and they keep an eye out on my job site.”
Much like learning to ride a bike, with construction, you need to scrape your knees a few times before you can learn to ride with no handlebars.
At the beginning of the day, Earehart explains the goals for the day and demonstrates anything needed to be done with power tools. After that, the women are ready to work. While working on the house’s foundation and setting up wooden support beams for insulation and drywall last October, the women of First Financial Bank struggled at first to find the confidence to use tools, Earehart said. By the afternoon, though, the ladies were climbing ladders and drilling screws into beams like they were raised in the trade — Habitat for Humanity’s secret goal for every volunteer group.
“It's building more than a home,” Oaks Molter said. “It's building confidence — it's building courage to try new things. We brought out a group from Jay-Crew, the landscaping company, and all of their office ladies got to come out. One of them was putting up siding and she's like, ‘I think I could do this on my own house — why am I ever paying anyone?’”
Brandie, long-time volunteer for the women’s build, had similar feelings after receiving a home build from Muncie’s Habitat for Humanity. Getting out of a bad domestic situation with no prior construction skills, Brandie didn’t feel like she could build or take care of a house because no one told her she could.
“It was drilled into me that women don't know how to do this and that — which, that's kind of what people think,” Brandie said. “But [Muncie’s Habitat for Humanity] taught me a lot of confidence in myself and knowledge of things. I don't have to sit here and call somebody to come out and help with this or that — I'll just do it myself.”
The newfound construction knowledge has helped Brandie maintain her home and give her the confidence to keep working with Habitat for Humanity and inspire other women. She has continued volunteering for more than a year and has been hands-on with the site managers at the women’s build project. When it comes to helping women build their confidence with the walls, Brandie learned everyone has a hesitation about something. For her, it was heights.
“I eventually have to clean my gutters,” Brandie said. “It's OK to be hesitant, but it's also good to sort of push your boundaries, too. You don't know what you're capable of.”
After learning all the basics from other skilled volunteers, Brandie learned the most important lesson was to love her space.
“It makes me take more pride in it because I know who built my walls and picked out the cabinets and stuff,” Brandie said. “Before the drywall went up on some of the doors, I had my church come in and write scriptures — I got to see all everybody's name that helped build my house or their loving words or bible verses, and it just gives you so much more meaning.”
The priority to give back to the community came after her house was finished, but Brandie knew she didn’t want to stop volunteering for the organization that gave her life and confidence back. Helping new families and women learn the true meaning of Habitat for Humanity has meant more to her than she thought it ever would, she said.
“I would like to help someone else and make their dream come true, too,” Brandie said. “When I first started with Habitat, I was a little bit scared because people kind of look at you like this is a handout. Then I learned, no, it's not a handout — it’s a hand up. When somebody would tell me that they were [part of] Habitat, it made me look at everything differently.”
Contact Sophie Nulph with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @nulphsophie.