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Women learn building skills while lending a hand

Women learn building skills while lending a hand

Habitat for Humanity building two homes in Schenectady
Women learn building skills while lending a hand
Habitat for Humanity volunteer Leigh Metzger installs laminate flooring in a home under construction in Schenectady.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

Imagine a home construction site -- the sounds of power tools working, boots stomping, tiles being cemented into place, hale and hearty camaraderie between the work crew -- and then add just a hint of apple-scented body spray.

That was the scene at Habitat for Humanity of Schenectady County's "Woman Build Week" construction site in the Mont Pleasant neighborhood Saturday, as a work crew of nearly 50 women volunteers helped to put in the tile floors for two 1,600-square-foot, four-bedroom homes at 1061 Davis Terrace, both of which are being sold to women.

One of the purchasers of the new homes in 15-year Schenectady resident Tanya Scott, a single mother who works at Albany Medical Center.

"I'm tired of renting, so I started looking into how to invest into a home, and a co-worker of mine told me that she had gotten a house through Habitat. I called them, they told me to fill out an application, and here I am," Scott said. "So far, I've painted; I put up sheetrock; I've done tiling. It's good to see people come together. Different people, different stories, people helping each other, like me -- a single parent trying to buy a home. So, it's all good."

Saturday's event was part of the larger "National Women Build Week", an initiative sponsored by Habitat for Humanity and Lowe's, which over an 11-year period has organized 117,000 female construction volunteers to build or repair more than 4,500 homes.

Schenectady Habitat Executive Director Madelyn Thorne said the purpose of the "Woman Build" initiative is to provide a comfortable atmosphere for women to learn home building and maintenance skills.

"On a normal Habitat for Humanity construction day we might have 80 percent men, and 20 percent women, and what happens, because the men are kind and good, is they might carry the heavy thing, or say 'here, hold the tool, while I do the thing.' It's not that they are bad people -- it's a cultural thing where men do construction and women don't," Thorne said.

"This day is to tell women they are going to learn how to do this. Women are going to be the ones carrying the heavy thing and using the power tool and learning how to use the T-square, giving women the self confidence to take on projects that they then transfer onto to their own homes. We've had women tell us after doing this that when they deal with contractors they feel like they are on an equal footing."

Some volunteers were already more comfortable with new construction than others.

Jade Bilen, the events coordinator for Viaport Rotterdam, volunteered for the construction project on behalf of her employer. She said she grew up doing home improvement projects with her father. She gained enough experience to be savvy in the ways of building, offering an 'elbow bump' greeting to newcomers to the site, rather than a handshake caked with cement.

She said she enjoys watching women learn how to do construction work for the first time.

"It takes me back to when I was learning. Construction is such a good trait to learn. It's definitely useful for the future when you have a house. Everybody should learn something, as far as construction work goes," she said.

Schenectady resident Lashaunda Baker said Saturday was the second time she's volunteered to help Habitat for Humanity at the 1061 Davis Terrace location. She said this time she came prepared with her "Drenched Apple Flower" scented body spray to help deal with the construction site's portable toilet.

"It can get pretty live in there. The spray gives you a safe, one-minute of freshness, to get in and out and do what you have to do, and it stays fruity, and then we get back to work, and we don't feel violated," she said.

One of the few men on the site was Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy. McCarthy said the city contributed $60,000 in Community Development Block Grant money toward the construction for one of the buildings.

"Having owner-occupied houses adds to the stability of the neighborhood. We're a community in transition, where we're trying to displace the negatives and show the real value that exists in the neighborhoods. So, to get middle-class people moving back here is just a tremendous success story," McCarthy said.

The two new homes are being built near the location of a new $2.3 million branch of the Schenectady County Public Library, another sign that the neighborhood is being upgraded.

Thorne said some of the other sources of money for the two-house project came from the IUE-CWA, Trustco Bank, NBT Bank and a private donor who gave her organization one of the lots.

She said both homes will be priced at $100,000, but the home owners will effectively pay a mortgage of $75,000 because Habitat for Humanity grants back the interest payments over a 30-year period in what's known as a "2 percent net zero" arrangement. She said her organization has built 50 homes in the Schenectady area, plans to build two new ones in Rotterdam soon and a three-house project near Webster Street and Eighth Avenue.

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