Women build hope one house at a time

Staff Writer

 Volunteers work on the rebuilding of a Sea Bright home damaged by superstorm Sandy on July 17 for Habitat for Humanity of Monmouth County’s Women Build project.  STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR Volunteers work on the rebuilding of a Sea Bright home damaged by superstorm Sandy on July 17 for Habitat for Humanity of Monmouth County’s Women Build project. STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR Female volunteers hammered nails into pieces of wood, climbed ladders to build a roof and even reconstructed hope — all for a Sea Bright woman who lost her home in superstorm Sandy.

Homeowner Leslie Morris was devastated after the 2012 storm, but she now has a chance to start a new chapter in her life, thanks to the Women Build project in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Monmouth County.

From July 15-19, starting at 9 a.m. and ending at 3 p.m. daily, volunteers worked on the home that Morris had lived in for 17 years.

“The volunteers at Women Build and Habitat for Humanity have been so helpful in helping me get my life back in order. And for that, I am forever grateful,” Morris said.

Among the unique aspects of the Morris home construction was its inception in Times Square in New York City.

As part of Lowe’s affiliation with Women Build and Habitat for Humanity, volunteers participated in constructing the floors, walls and windows of the home over a span of three days in the spring, according to Habitat for Humanity of Monmouth County Executive Director Ray Gabler.

“The event in Times Square was sponsored by Lowe’s, and they are committed to donating to the project for the next five years, with their donations equaling approximately $23.5 million,” he said.

Throughout the Times Square event, light from the billboards illuminated the construction of the home and made the efforts of the volunteers truly outshine the hustling atmosphere of New York City.

“When the last window was put into what will be the kitchen of Leslie’s home, I sent her a picture of her house and told her to look at the view, which happened to be Times Square,” Gabler said. “The whole experience was just awesome.”

Morris said the framing of her home being done in the middle of Times Square was an experience unlike any other.

“To this day, it is hard to process, and feels unreal. And when I went down to see it, I almost burst into tears,” she said.

Women Build began in 1991 and, over time, was extended to last one week each year, according to Gabler.

The week celebrates the ability women have to recruit and train other women to build decent and affordable homes for others. So far, Women Build has helped to construct 1,900 houses.

“Everyone deserves the right to live affordably and not suffer, so Habitat for Humanity and Women Build helps homeowners do just that,” Gabler said.

Monmouth County’s Habitat for Humanity Board President Nancy Doran said there is more to be done with the construction of these homes devastated by the storm.

“There has been a lot of rebuilding taking place in our Shore communities since Sandy and we are not done yet, so our Women Build event highlights the efforts that women in particular are making to meet the many housing needs in our county,” Doran said.

Women Build receives assistance and funding from several partnerships with major corporations and businesses.

In addition, other sponsors such as Wells Fargo, whose female employees assisted on the Morris construction site, volunteer with Habitat for Humanity and provide additional funding for the project, according to Gabler.

At every project site, the female volunteers get on-site training on how to use construction equipment such as a nail gun or a hammer, according to Volunteer Coordinator Kate Nelson.

“All the volunteers either have very little experience, some experience or none at all. So we are grateful to have with us Sandra Larson, who is a professional contractor, to teach the women how to build the home efficiently,” Nelson said.

In addition, each site has different workers in various leadership levels, including an on-site manager, on-site instructor and contractor, and lead volunteers, according to Gabler.

Getting involved with Women Build is a rather simple process, and the outpouring of support Habitat for Humanity receives is tremendous, according to Nelson.

“There are so many people who call us or contact us through our website and want to help, so the amount of support we receive from surrounding communities is overwhelming,” Nelson said.

To date, Habitat for Humanity of Monmouth has completed about 85 homes, according to Gabler. Those projects involved both constructing brand-new homes and repairing homes in critical need.

When Habitat for Humanity and Women Build volunteers first came to the site of the Morris’ family home, they were shocked at what they saw.

“I have been volunteering for about 15 years, so we see a lot of different sites. And with this one, it is just hard to see a homeowner who, after two years, still can’t go inside her home due to the debris and damage,” said Wanda Saez, Women Build volunteer and vice president of government and community relations for Wells Fargo of Princeton.

Morris remembers like it was yesterday the experience she endured when Sandy hit her residence.

“It was truly a frightening experience,” Morris said.

When the storm hit, the water came over the seawall and onto the property, caving into the back walls of the house. “It is hard to be out of my home, and I have been living in temporary housing in Fort Monmouth since the storm,” Morris said.

Morris expressed her feelings of relief and gratitude when she discovered that Habitat for Humanity could help to rebuild her home.

Women Build received international assistance on the construction of the Morris family’s new home, with help from members of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

“The help from UAE was incredible, and there were so gracious and kind to help build the foundation of this home. So their experience with us served as a great cultural exchange,” Nelson said.

“I love volunteering for Women Build because every time I go to a different site, I learn something new and feel absolutely elated when I get home at the end of the day,” Saez said.

Construction on the new home for Morris and her son is expected to be completed by late August, according to Gabler.

“Everyone has been so wonderful, and when I look at my new home as it is coming together, I see the beginning of my new life, and I can turn to my son and say, ‘Welcome home,’ ” Morris said.