Igniting Passion Through Volunteering
Associate Director, Women Build,
Habitat for Humanity International
Commentary - Curtailing Democracy
I've built a life that follows my passion: undergraduate degree in social work, three years of service as a Peace Corps volunteer, and more than ten years as a nonprofit professional at Habitat for Humanity.
I remember the first time that passion was ignited with Habitat for Humanity. It was just over a decade ago; I was in the Peace Corps, standing as a first-time Habitat volunteer on a build site in Jamaica. As I gathered with my fellow volunteers, I felt anxious and unsure about what to expect or whether I had the skills to do the work. I was a young woman in my 20s and had barely swung a hammer in my life. If asked to, I'm not sure I could have picked a 2 x 4 out of a pile of lumber.
Those fears were soon replaced by the knowledge that I could actually do the work. I discovered, as all Habitat volunteers do, that you learn on site; the only prerequisite is a willingness to help. Standing with the partner families and my fellow volunteers at the end of the day, surveying the fruits of our labor and realizing — in language expressed in the heart rather than the mind — exactly what we had built, was an experience I will never forget.
Soon my passion led me to Habitat for Humanity International, where I eventually became head of Habitat's Women Build program. I've learned that while my first build with Habitat took place hundreds of miles from my own home, the sense of hope, accomplishment, and security derived from the existence of a real solution that helps low-income families own their own homes translates across all continents and countries, including our own. Today, in fact, the Census Bureau reports that more than 12 million children in the United States — one out of every six — are living in poverty. While such staggering statistics are daunting, this week women have the opportunity to take the first step to becoming part of the solution.
Developed by Habitat's Women Build program in partnership with Lowe's, National Women Build Week challenges women to devote at least one day in the week leading up to Mother's Day to creating affordable housing. Women have risen to the challenge in the past, with more than thirty thousand contributing to the construction or rehabilitation of more than a thousand Habitat for Humanity homes over the past five years.
The theme of this year's event is "The Build Generation," reflecting our goal to engage women volunteers while welcoming the next generation of Habitat Women Build volunteers, those between the ages of 18 and 24. Indeed, according to research conducted by Women Build, the Whirlpool Corporation, and the University of Southern Indiana, most Women Build volunteers are between 36 and 50 years old. These statistics are similar to those in a 2011 report from the U.S. Department of Labor which found that people age 35-44 and 45-54 are most likely to volunteer, while those in their early 20s are least likely.
Women Build and our partners at Lowe's seek to engage and inspire young women to join us for this year's National Women Build Week, May 5-13. Events will take place at two hundred and seventy-five locations in all fifty states. I encourage all women who have a passion for helping others to join us. You'll learn new skills, make new friends, and engage with your communities in profound new ways. If you're unsure about what you're able to contribute, I hope my words inspire you to act. I was in your shoes once, and I can tell you that your fears will vanish and you'll walk away from the experience knowing that your passion helped build the foundations for a brighter future for a Habitat partner family.
Lisa Marie Nickerson is the associate director of Habitat for Humanity's Women Build program, which brings together women from all walks of life to address the housing crisis facing millions of women and children worldwide.