The Kindness Of Strangers

Colleen - Apache Junction, Arizona
Entered on May 4, 2011
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I live in a house built by Habitat for Humanity, and it was through the process of building my home that I came to believe in the kindness of strangers.

I am a single mother, always struggling to juggle home and work. I had managed to save for a small down payment on a house; however when the housing market broke open, the prices went up to an unobtainable amount for me, even for smallest of homes. The opportunity to apply for a Habitat home came during this time in my life, in the form of a newspaper article in the local paper. I began the application process. After months of meeting the different criteria, a concluding home visit finalized the waiting period, and I was notified that my family had been chosen for one of the eighteen homes to be built in my city that year.

Each Habitat applicant must put in four hundred hours of “build time” before they can move into their new home. These hours are spent on Saturday mornings, working on other home owners houses. The actual building of a Habitat house takes roughly sixteen Saturdays, with a small skeleton crew that comes in during the weekdays. It was on these building days that I began to meet the many people that make these homes possible. The volunteers came in numbers, from various walks of life, some with training and house building skills, most without. They came from churches, businesses, clubs and Habitat itself, always enthusiastic, ready on those early mornings to form crews, which after a group prayer, would build a home for someone that they had never met until that morning. When the framing is completed my favorite Habitat ritual takes place. Each worker is handed a felt-tipped marker and instructed to write a message to the family on the new ply-wood walls. Living in a home where hand-written inspirations line the walls has always been a comfort to me. Long ago, covered in sheet-rock and paint, they remain wrapped around me on cold, dark nights, reminding me of the people that put them there.

My house was what is referred to as a blitz build. Over three hundred workers, volunteers everyone, built three houses in just four days. Working from before dawn until way past dark, these people accomplished what seemed to be the impossible. Starting out with just a concrete foundation, framers, plumbers, electricians, and finish carpenters worked around and between each other. On the third day my contractor came to me with a screwdriver and pointed to a smooth place he had trolled out in the stucco. He had already scrolled out the date but writing my name alongside it meant so much. To me those letters meant ownership; this house was mine.

It is through the kindness of strangers that these moments and homes are possible. Their willingness to give up that one Saturday a week makes such an incredible difference in so many lives. I have now become one of the strangers, finding solace and hope in writing my own message on the walls of a newly framed Habitat house knowing firsthand what power that kindness can accomplish.