Beryl Wiltshire walks around the Stag Horn Villas community, proudly pointing at “that one, and that one and that one.” The yellow, blue and green townhouses that surround her, with their freshly painted white picket porches, are ready for families. And Wiltshire has helped build half of them in the Habitat for Humanity community in Orlando.
Wiltshire has run the gamut of Habitat building tasks: painting, siding, building walls, and her personal favorite, doing work on the roof. She’s definitely not the typical person anyone would imagine climbing ladders to reach the top of two-story buildings and throwing up drywall in her spare time. Wiltshire is petite, and she wears baby pink construction boots to the worksite. But her enthusiasm for the work surprises other volunteers, especially because she does it all at 71 years old.
“She’s just so fearless and genuinely excited about everything,” said Jennifer Gallagher, director of community outreach for Habitat.
The Orlando resident has spent almost every Saturday of the last three years volunteering her time to Habitat for Humanity of Greater Orlando. The organization, which builds homes using almost all volunteer work, guides approved future homeowners through the process of fixing financial problems, such as bad credit. It sells them the home at cost and offers a zero percent interest rate with a mortgage length up to 40 years. The homes at Stag Horn Villas cost homeowners $600 to $650 a month total. Habitat homeowners must also volunteer 300 to 500 hours with the organization before moving in.
“They don’t give a handout, they give a hand-up,” said Linda Baker, who owns a Habitat home. “They give people hope.”
“The vision of Habitat is a world where everyone has a simple, decent, affordable place to live,” Gallagher said. “Our goal is to build ourselves out of business.”
For more information about Habitat for Humanity Greater Orlando, and to learn how to volunteer or apply for home help, visit www.habitat-orlando.org or call 407-648-4567.
But that’s not happening anytime soon unfortunately, she added, which makes people like Wiltshire vital to the organization.
She’s a crew leader, supervising and guiding other volunteers. But she wasn’t always so confident. As an older woman with no construction experience, her first day was quite intimidating.
“I was terrified. I was so nervous,” she said.
It was a far cry from her days as a legal secretary, but it was just what she wanted. Now she misses the work when she can’t make a Saturday building day. When she’s supervising, she has to resist the itch to do the work herself. When she hears that they’ve got roof construction days ahead, a smile spreads across her face and she throws her hands into the air in excitement.
Construction manager Mark Myrick said that this is how she always is.
“She’s irreplaceable,” said John Douglas, construction supervisor for Habitat. “You will never meet anyone like her.”
The one thing Wiltshire is possibly more passionate about – even more than roofing, she said – are the people she gets to work with. At a breakfast hosted by Habitat, homeowners told their stories, and these stories helped Wiltshire cross the line between just signing a check and working at a construction site.
Many people have inspired and humbled Wiltshire over the years, but last year, on Elizangela Dos Santos’ first day of volunteering to get her own Habitat home, she struck Wiltshire immediately. Future homeowners can have one person help them with 100 of their required volunteer hours. Dos Santos, a single mother, was facing all of her hours alone, but by the end of that day, Wiltshire had offered to dedicate 100 hours to her.
“I was alone, and she wanted to help,” Dos Santos said. “It wasn’t that she knew me, it was her heart. It was fate.”
They completed the hours two months ago, and Dos Santos is waiting to get into her new home. When asked about it, Wiltshire waves it off, not taking any credit. She’s too humble, Dos Santos said. Wiltshire helped reach the end of a struggle for Dos Santos, who will own her first home, something she never imagined she could do.