Women Build Skills--and Houses

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Since its inception, Habitat for Humanity's Women Build department has built more than 200 homes in the United States. Now the organization is banking on a new initiative called 'First Ladies Build' to help spread the message.

January 27, 2000

Since its inception, Habitat for Humanity's Women Build department has built more than 200 homes in the United States. Now the organization is banking on a new initiative called "First Ladies Build" to help spread the message.

According to Habitat's statistics, women make up 50 percent of its volunteer force, but due to lack of training, they account for less than 15 percent of construction-site work.

"Up until recently, the majority of Habitat housing has been built by men," says Fiona East-wood, manager of the Women Build department. "Women want to be involved [with construction.] They don't want to just bring the coffee anymore." Women Build projects provide an en-vironment where women can feel comfortable while learning skills they might not otherwise have the opportunity to learn.

"When you're on a Women Build, the women teach each other," says Jery Huntley, presi-dent of the Vinyl Siding Institute and a participant in the Women Build sponsored by Whirlpool at the Home Builders show in Dallas. Several women from the vinyl siding industry were among the 150 who participated on the Women Build at the show.

"Most of the women are in marketing departments, but by bringing them to the build and teaching them how to hang siding, they have a better appreciation for their product," say Huntley. "They physically achieved things they never dreamed of."

To raise the level of awareness of the opportunities for women, the Women Build depart-ment has launched an initiative, "First Ladies Build." Women are building Habitat houses in, or around, each of the state capitals, with the participation of current and former first ladies and women governors of each particular state.

First Ladies Cathy Keating (Okla.), Janet Huckabee (Ark.), Martha Carper (Del.), and for-mer First Lady Libby Jones (Ky.) are championing the Women Build department and "First La-dies Build." Spearheading the Women Build department is a steering council comprised of the aforementioned first ladies, prominent businesswomen, Habitat co-founder Linda Fuller, and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, who serves as honorary chair.

Habitat affiliates within each state are also being challenged to do their own Women Build home, to coincide with their First Ladies' house. The first states began construction in April 1999, and the event will run through September 2000.

To encourage affiliate participation, the Women Build department providing them with re-sources to undertake a Women's Build, either in a blitz-build format or as a regular build. These educational resources include manuals on how to plan a women's build, how to utilize a Women Build house for publicity and how to organize workshops that will build a fund-raiser while giving hands-on experience.

For more information on Habitat for Humanity or the Women Build program, visit www.habitat.org

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