07 November 2011

Celebrity Guest Appearance!!!

Not long after I left for Luxembourg Brett got to go to build some houses with some of the coolest people who occupy this planet (i.e. anyone who's ever been involved with the Fuller Center for Housing). I wanted to hear all about it, so he wrote me little "blogs" every day while he was there.... and I'm excited that he let me share some of his cool experiences here! Traveling is fun, but I think these are the sorts of things that make a real vacation :)... enjoy!

After failed attempts to travel to Haiti and then to the Congo to build with the Fuller Center, I figured a domestic trip might be my last shot to have some fun while alleviating substandard housing conditions. That’s why I seized the opportunity to head down to Louisiana for the 3rd Annual Millard Fuller Legacy Build. I was also glad I could drive to the worksite, instead of further subsidizing the commercial airline industry by purchasing non-refundable tickets. The 1100 mile drive to Minden, LA was the perfect chance to put some miles on my “new” 2000 Honda Insight. This chick magnet averaged 67 MPG on the drive down, making this a very inexpensive adventure!

A local Methodist church camp was kind enough to provide free lodging in their cabins. Unlike what I remembered from summer camp as a kid, these cabins were equipped with heat, AC, a toilet, and HOT showers! Ours also came with a golf ball sized black widow spider to greet us in the bathroom. My roommates were a bunch of retired guys who had been working with Habitat for Humanity since the beginning, and told stories ranging from mishaps on past projects to their experiences working with Jimmy Carter. They were also eager to give construction tips and tricks to their young bunk-mate.

At the registration dinner Sunday night, the plans for the week were laid out. Eight new homes would be built on Millard Fuller Drive, and 7 nearby houses would be refurbished. Upon registering, we were given toolpouches, pencils, and cool t-shirts, then treated to a Mardi-Gras style celebration. Amidst all the excitement, I managed to lose my shirt and toolpouch. There are probably pictures of me attempting to dance floating around the internet somewhere, too. It was great to see friends from the Bike Adventure again!

I was assigned to work on house number 4, a new build led by a carpenter from Pennsylvania named Barry. There were about a dozen of us, including a few Americorps volunteers, building this home for Ms. Rose Fuller ( no relation to Millard and Linda Fuller). In order to complete the build in one week’s time, the concrete slab for the foundation was poured in advance, and the majority of the materials had been delivered to the site. Our first task was to find numbered sections of the framework for the house and bolt them down to the foundation according to a provided set of blueprints. I’m told convicts from a local prison had been onsite prior to our arrival to assemble the house frame, then disassemble it in order to make sure things went smoothly for us. Whatever the story, things fit together easily. In less than one day, we had erected the whole structure of the house, and had mounted plywood to half of the roof. I ran the hammer-drill used to run screws into the concrete. If I ever end up with carpal-tunnel, I’ll know why!

Go figure, it rained the night after day one-- before our roof was installed. We arrived the next morning to an inch or two of water inside the house. We were able to sweep it out and set up a fan to dry the inside of the house, and work resumed. In spite of the rain and chilly temperatures, the external “shell” of the house was put together by the end of the second day. We installed the tin roof, windows, and vinyl siding the following days, as well as electrical wiring. I got plenty of experience installing electrical boxes, hanging vinyl siding, mounting soffit, and installing a metal roof. That’s a great thing! I definitely feel like I could build my own house from scratch if I wanted to, just based on everything I learned while working on this house.

At the end of the day Friday, it was time for us to dedicate the house to the new owner, pack up, and go to the closing dinner. Unfortunately, we just weren’t able to finish everything on the house. If you drove down the street, you would think the house is done—everything outside looks great (minus the lack of landscaping). The inside could still use a little help. The electrical and plumbing were done, and the sheetrock was hung and mudded. However, the walls needed to be sanded and painted, the cabinets still need to be installed, the floors need finished, and the appliances need to be moved in. That sounds like a lot of work! Luckily, the Webster Parish Fuller Center will be finishing up the work we couldn’t get done in time, but it will probably be a while before the family can move in. We held the house dedication ceremony with the homeowner, regardless of the state of completion of the home. It was definitely satisfying to meet the people who would benefit from our labor and also hear their appreciation. Ms. Rose (the homeowner) would be raising 3 little boys in the house we built (her grandchildren, I think). It was cool to think we could provide the boys with the opportunity for a better future.

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