Women Build works on new house

Volunteer carpenters exchanged their professional titles, purses and makeup bags Saturday for “Women at Work” T-shirts and pink tool belts heavy with hammers, nails and measuring tape.

They also led and trained about a dozen high school girls on housing construction how-to’s during a half-day Habitat for Humanity Women Build event on Longwood View Avenue.

Members of Girl Scout Troop 10885 and St. Michael the Archangel High teens caulked, primed, insulated walls and attached siding to a 1,100-square-foot, three-bedroom house being built for single mother Jessica Darville and her 2-year-old daughter, said Kristen Lastrapes, Habitat house build construction coordinator and volunteer.

Many Habitat homes are completed within eight weeks, and Darville’s home might be finished in February, Lastrapes said. Families applying for Habitat homes must fall within an income range of 27 to 60 percent of median family income to be considered.

Darville also is contributing 255 hours to help build her home. She did not make it to Saturday’s build.

Ciarra McNeely, 16, gained new confidence after she helped apply some siding to Darville’s house.

“I’ve put up Christmas lights and painted shutters, but never this,” McNeely said. “People usually associate men with construction, but we don’t have to depend on the males, the women are teaching us.”

The Women Build housing construction program started in Baton Rouge in 2005, when women volunteers, contractors and subcontractors started helping contribute framing, roofing, carpentry and additional construction services to nine house builds for women and their children.

Their efforts have helped Habitat to complete about 280 homes in the Baton Rouge area down through the years and helped to create affordable housing for working mothers with house notes of about $350 per month, Lynn Clark said. More than 95 percent of Habitat homes are owned by women who are heads of the household, she said.

Habitat for Humanity of Greater Baton Rouge volunteer Kim Boudreaux set the bar high for her young trainees during Saturday’s build.

“Young girls get to see what women can really do,” said Boudreaux, a chemical engineer by profession. “Sometimes, the men don’t think we know what we’re doing, but we do.”

Boudreaux used her 23 years of house-building experience to measure and cut concrete siding using a power shearer.

She handed the siding to her young apprentices and showed them how to safely hammer boards onto the outside walls.

Habitat volunteer Patti Sollie told the girls her husband bought her a tool belt and a hammer for Christmas.

She also gave girls pointers on determining good work from poor work.

“Would it be good enough for your house?” she asked them.

Nothing seemed to phase volunteer Nancy O’Malley, a toxicologist, who tackled the home’s carpentry jobs from a tall ladder. She walked along attic beams to install trusses to support the roof.

“I’m not nervous about climbing into high places,” O’Malley said. “Most of what I’ve learned I learned from a female builder.”

O’Malley said working on an all-women’s house project can build confidence in young girls.

“It can be intimidating on a coed build because the guys will jump right in,” she said. “But here, we feel more empowered.”

Though women ruled Saturday’s build, Habitat project builder Paul Carroccio respected that and helped direct the women through the day’s list of projects.

“They do great,” Carroccio said of the women workers. “They’re more detail-oriented.”

Sollie said she appreciated Carroccio’s attitude.

“Paul explains it and he speaks on the terms we understand,” she said.

St. Michael High student Cecily Stelly, 17, has volunteered on other house builds where she worked alongside males. Though the men tended to hammer faster, she said, the women usually worked longer and harder on the jobs.

She said her volunteer effort is part of a community service project and presentation that she and others will deliver at the end of the year.

“These are things that I never learned at my house,” Stelly said. “But coming out here makes us feel more independent. It’s a pay-it-forward effort and it shows how you can help change communities and the world.”

Andrea Ramirez, a 16-year-old Girl Scout volunteer, said Saturday’s effort helped make a difference for one family in Baton Rouge.

“I’m proud of the women here,” she said. “We’re independent and we’re setting a good example for other young people to follow.”

Darville’s next-door neighbor, Shawnte Green, a single mother of three boys, also looks forward to moving into her new Habitat for Humanity home, hopefully in January.

“I can truly say that I feel completely blessed,” Green said. “I didn’t think I’d ever have a house. Coming from a two-bedroom apartment to here is a blessing.”