Habitat for Humanity
Since 2011, Beth Meyer has been actively involved with Habitat for Humanity of Wake County. Founded in Georgia in 1976, Habitat now operates worldwide, helping people to build and own decent housing, and to stabilize and revitalize their communities. Their model, characterized as “a hand up, not a handout”, offers opportunities for both straightforward tzedakah, and the hands-on mitzvah of construction.
The organization acquires land, and carefully selects residents who are struggling towards better housing, but who are not able to afford or qualify for a conventional mortgage. Building materials and labor are mostly donated (That’s where we come in!), and future residents put in many hours of “sweat-equity” work on their own and others’ houses. After they move in, the new homeowners carry a small, low-interest, long-term mortgage carefully matched to their situation. The proceeds go back into the organization to buy land and professional services (foundation, electrical, plumbing) for the next round of projects.
Habitat was founded as and remains a Christian organization, motivated by faith to “serve God’s children in need." And, while it is common for a group of churches to band together to sponsor a house, commercial builders and secular companies in other industries often do so as well. The one common denominator is that most of the volunteer work happens on Saturdays, which makes it difficult for Jews to participate.
In 2011, however, Habitat of Wake County tried an experiment to expand the concept of house sponsorship by faith-communities. The “Abraham Build” brought together Jews, Christians, and Muslims to construct a house in southeast Raleigh. And we made a special effort to have several Sunday workdays so everyone could participate. All we need is to have a critical mass (a “minyan”, if you will) of volunteers to make it worthwhile to send out a site supervisor on the alternate day. The project was so successful that in later years more faith communities clamored to join in (Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Bahais, Unitarians, and others), and the effort was re-named the “Interfaith Build”.
For the last few years, our pattern has been to start planning in January, begin construction in late March, and finish and dedicate the house in mid-June. We thank everyone who participated in this year’s efforts, and encourage the whole community to consider coming out next time around. No experience is necessary, just a willingness to learn and to make an effort. However, due to OSHA safety standards for active construction sites, no children under 16 are permitted, and those under 18 must be accompanied by an adult.
Steve LaSala coordinates the Beth Meyer volunteer effort. If you would like to be involved, you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.