Building community

When the Habitat for Humanity staffer asked, “Who’s not afraid of heights?” I raised my hand. I should have thought it through.

But at 8:30 Saturday morning, with the temperatures still in the 70s and standing in the shade of a large, leafy tree, I didn’t pay attention to the fact that the unroofed part of the house was on the unshaded side.

A message had gone out on our neighborhood listserv offering an opportunity to volunteer on a Habitat build, and the only thing that gave me pause was the early start time. I signed up anyway and did my best. In hindsight, I could have saved a little time by not putting on mascara. Given that it was a bright and beautiful day, I never took off my sunglasses. And even if I had, I would have sweated off any makeup after about 20 minutes on the roof.

After going over work site safety rules and checking our shoes for traction, the Habitat supervisor sent us up on the scaffolding and helped us hoist 4-foot by 8-foot sheets of OSB — that’s oriented strand board, sheathed in a mylar-like substance to reflect heat, and quite heavy, from my perspective. Once we laid it in place, all we had to do was hammer it to the rafters.

I should point out that for the past 20 years, I’ve done no physical labor more strenuous than mowing the lawn. Gone are the days when I toted 50 pounds’ worth of toddlers and gear up and down the subway stairs in Manhattan. And it turns out that decades of typing does very little to preserve upper body strength. Still, the construction supervisor issued me a nail apron and a hammer. I was relieved nobody kept track of my speed or the number of nails I bent.

The temperature heated up as the morning wore on, and Habitat staff encouraged us to take frequent water breaks in the shade. I thought my hammering technique improved over time, but I couldn’t help but notice every time I returned from a water break that a tremendous amount of work had been done in my absence.

Overall, I had a wonderful time and learned a lot of really useful stuff. Next time a hurricane hits town, my neighborhood team will be ready to re-roof as needed.

Orange County Habitat for Humanity has work sessions every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Go to www.OrangeHabitat.org to sign up for a shift. You’ll do things you never imagined you could. Just bring sunblock.
— Nancy Oates

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