Women's confidence goes up along with Habitat houses

Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity 'Women Build' project gives family home, women new skills

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When the woman pounding nails next to you is 84 years old, you can’t complain about the hard work.

Jody Falconer of Iowa City was one of about 50 women who volunteered for an Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity “Women Build” project May 9 in Iowa City. The octogenarian took up the hammer enthusiastically, though she says it was the first time she’d been part of a community construction project.

“I’ve had a home for a number of years, so I’ve learned a few things,” she says. “I’ve driven a few nails in my time.”

The Women Build initiative encourages women such as Falconer, along with those, myself included, who’ve never used a hammer to do anything more than hang pictures on a wall. Organizers want women to know they can build houses just as well as the men who dominate the construction industry.

As a construction newbie, taking part in the “wall build,” sounded like a good way to give back to the community while learning some new skills.

By the end of the 3.5-hour shift constructing wall frames, my wrists were sore from swinging the hammer again and again. I probably hit the wood next to the nails just as often as the nails themselves. I wasn’t good at hitting the nail straight on. As a result, my nails bent and had to be redone.

In other words, it was much harder work than I expected.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. My typical workday, like that of millions of my fellow Americans, involves sitting at a desk and typing. Much too infrequent trips to the gym and jogs around my neighborhood haven’t prepared me for the demands of physical labor.

In defense of my naivete, the supervisors — called mentors — at the build made it look effortless. A nail that would take me a dozen or more tries to pound into the wood took them just two or three.

“Don’t worry,” they assured me. “We’ve been doing this for a long time.”

One supervisor, Iowa Valley Habitat construction manager Christy Shipley, 50, of Clarence, has worked in construction all her life.

“When I started out, I don’t think I knew another woman,” she says. “There weren’t other women out there, or those that were out there got drummed out very quickly.”

Men on construction sites often treated her and other females with disdain, she said.

“They didn’t think girls were tough enough or could get that knowledge,” she says.

Then she laughs.

The dozens of women working around us on the construction site are proving those men wrong. Shipley says today she often sees more women than men volunteering at Iowa Valley Habitat builds. Sororities, for example, send their members often.

“I see an awful lot of women,” she says. “More than 50 percent, I’d guess.”

This is the sixth year Iowa Valley Habitat has hosted a “Women Build” project. This year’s build will construct a six-bedroom house for Abdineko Mausa and Andjela Uredi and their 10 children. The family has been living in a two-bedroom house in Coralville.

Iowa Valley Habitat is looking for women to join the family in the build when major construction kicks off in August. The men who will be involved mostly will be mentors, passing on their construction knowledge.

Volunteers don’t need any training or experience to join in. Each shift starts with a brief orientation, and supervisors are there to provide support.

“We want to encourage and empower women that they can do projects like this,” says Iowa Valley Habitat volunteer coordinator Tami Bonnett. “They can come out and help someone in the community, but also learn something. Everybody’s got household maintenance.”

Building something with her hands brings a lot of satisfaction, Shipley says.

“It’s fun, it’s gratifying,” she says. “And you know in 100 years it’s going to be there. You helped a family come home.”

I agree.

At the end of the day, I was tired, but happy. Happy to see that even with zero experience or physical prowess, I was able to help build the walls that would shelter a family.

Comments: (319) 398-8434; alison.gowans@sourcemedia.net

Get involved

•For more information, go to Iowavalleyhabitat.org or call (319) 337-8949 or email volunteer@iowavalleyhabitat.org

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