I've learned a lot so far over my three years of participating in West Orange Habitat for Humanity's annual Women Build event.
As a native Floridian who pines for real seasons and mild weather, getting sweaty is not my thing. It never has been.
So, when my colleagues Cyndi Gustafson and Amy Quesinberry asked me a few years ago if I would join them for the second West Orange Habitat for Humanity Women Build event, I was a bit hesitant.
But I had seen how much fun Amy had the year prior, and this was a chance to help the home’s recipient — Victoria Grace, a single mother — start a new chapter in life with her children. The draw of the cute, pink hard hat with my name on it helped, too.
It was one of the best decisions I could have made.
That first year, I really earned some stripes in the field of homebuilding. Now, having just finished my third round of Women Build, I know a thing or two.
Before I began participating in the annual Women Build event, my home-improvement experience was pretty limited.
Most of the credit goes to The Home Depot kids workshops I attended as a child with my dad and sister. And I’d be remiss not to give honorable mention to the summer of 2004, when I helped my dad board up our house’s windows before the hurricanes — shout out to Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne for that one.
On Women Build day in May 2018, I learned to measure and cut wood with a circular saw, used a staple gun and even helped erect the first wall on Shellonda Hill’s home right next door.
Seeing how grateful these women were — and how willing other women in the community were to help them reach their goals — lit a fire in me. It was even better to see things come full circle as I covered the dedications and ribbon cutting for Victoria’s and Shellonda’s new homes months later.
Since then, I’ve honed my painting skills on two more homes. Last year, I scaled up scaffolding on Ursula Hunter’s home — the last of the three on Green Oaks Row in east Winter Garden — to meticulously paint the exterior siding.
As with most everything, COVID-19 threw a wrench in everyone’s plans this year, so Women Build was split into a couple sessions. This year, Cyndi, Amy and I were joined by another colleague, Lindsay Cannizzaro.
Amy, Lindsay and I were tasked with giving a bedroom in one of the homes a second coat of paint. The relentless end-of-summer heat was present, but the room’s one open window gave us the occasional reprieve of a cool breeze — and some ventilation, of course.
Armed with paint brushes and rollers, we got to work. But it truly wasn’t work. We were constantly chatting, cracking jokes and sharing stories. Not only does Women Build provide a chance to help a homeowner achieve her dream, but it also is full of great opportunities for community and bonding with others.
By the time we finished painting, we were tired, speckled with paint and, yes, sweaty. I could not have cared less. We make a pretty great team, and that’s what matters.
In the end, we raised more than $65,000 to help West Orange Habitat for Humanity build homes and make a difference for two single moms.
Perhaps what’s most gratifying this time around is that in a time where masks and social distancing are a must, we still were able to accomplish something together.
And, we did it in the face of a global pandemic.