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Women work to build Habitat house for grateful new homeowner

By Claire Bessette

Publication: theday.com

Published May 10. 2014 3:28PM   Updated May 11. 2014 12:19AM
Tim Cook/The Day
Women volunteers with Habitat for Humanity work Saturday on the new Habitat project on Flanders Road in East Lyme as part of 2014 National Women Build Week.

East Lyme — Lauren Williams worked with a smile on her face Saturday morning as she raked leaves and rocks away from the foundation of a new house under construction at 111 Flanders Road.

Her house.

Williams, 30, of New London will buy the new three-bedroom house from Habitat for Humanity of Eastern Connecticut this fall when it is completed. The single mother of two sons ages 7 and 8 can’t wait for that move-in day.

“This is such a blessing for us,” Williams said. “We have lived in the most horrible places. … This is a wonderful town — the schools, academically. They are going to soar.”

She paused, kept smiling and looked around at the assembled crew of volunteers being instructed by veteran Habitat volunteer crew leader Rich Basham of Waterford on how to use a nail gun and how to frame an exterior wall.

“To have all these people helping me,” she said. “Nobody here really knows me.”

Saturday’s volunteer crew featured a dozen women who donned bright red T-shirts and work belts from Lowe’s and Home Depot. “2014 National Women Build Week,” the T-shirts read. “Building on the Foundation.”

Amy D’Amico, resource education director for Habitat for Humanity of Eastern Connecticut, said the Niantic construction project is one of 300 events across the country to mark National Women Build Week. Lead sponsor Lowe’s Companies Inc. will donate $5,000 to each participating group.

Lowe’s helped launch National Women Build Week in 2006 and provides how-to clinics at stores to teach construction techniques. The company is donating $1.75 million to this year’s effort.

The event not only encourages women to volunteer with Habitat, but it provides newcomers to the construction field with a comfortable setting surrounded by peers who also have never worked a nail gun or table saw, said Terri O’Rourke, executive director and CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Eastern Connecticut. O’Rourke didn’t hesitate to interrupt Basham on Saturday to translate or explain technical construction terms he used freely.

Former Habitat board member Ben Orvedal donated the Flanders Road lot to the organization. The land features a steep rock cliff behind the house foundation and wooded flat land atop the cliff — a ready playground for Williams’ two sons.

The modest split-level Colonial style house will have one bedroom on the lower level with a door that opens in the front. A curved driveway will lead to the main level, where two bedrooms, the kitchen, dining room and living room will be built.

The house will cost about $130,000, not including the value of the donated land, O’Rourke said. It will be rated “Energy Star Plus” with efficient gas heat.

“We’re very mindful that the house should be not only affordable to buy, but affordable to live in,” O’Rourke said.

Saturday’s work crew included two other women who are in line for Habitat homes in the coming months. Sara Marshall, 29, of Groton, mother of 6-year-old twin boys, awaits a new house in Stonington. Lorielle Robidas, 31, of Killingly, and her three children ages 3, 9 and 11, will move into a renovated Habitat home in Putnam this fall.

The three women were encouraged by friends or co-workers to apply for homes through the Habitat program. To qualify, applicants must have a steady job to pay the mortgage and be willing to provide 200 hours of so-called sweat equity on the house construction or renovation. They also must bring in family and friends to provide another 200 hours of work.

Marshall said she applied three times before being accepted for a Habitat house. She has no construction experience and was glad to be surrounded by women in the same boat Saturday.

“I’m just so excited to be having a yard,” she said of her new home.

Habitat provides support in the form of home ownership and financial management classes and the dozens of other volunteers needed to finish the project.

Williams, who works as a patient care assistant in the emergency department at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London, said a co-worker who had purchased a Habitat home encouraged her to apply.

Williams was visiting her mother in the Bronx when the call came that her application had been accepted. She ran outside, screamed and cried at the news that she would become a homeowner for the first time.

“I was standing in the streets of the Bronx just bawling,” she said. “People were looking at me. I just screamed, ‘I got the house!’”

c.bessette@theday.com

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