by Brian Rudnick
On a recent Saturday, Linley Kirkwood, community outreach coordinator for Habitat for Humanity of Montgomery County and a Chestnut Hill resident, led a “Love in Action Tour” for prospective volunteers in North Hills. (Upper Dublin, Montgomery County, PA)
Habitat, which builds and rehabilitates homes around the world in partnership with the families who need them, also has active affiliates in Philadelphia and other neighboring counties.
This tour started in the home of a vacationing wheel-chair bound homeowner whose house was the first ADA-certified project for the Montgomery chapter. After an introduction and the showing of a short, moving video about the work Habitat does, Kirkwood dispelled some common myths about Habitat: former President Jimmy Carter did not found Habitat but he was an early and, still is, ardent supporter. Habitat does not give away houses; homeowners make a down payment, contribute sweat equity and pay a mortgage made reasonable by the contribution of labor, land and material.
Despite being one of the wealthiest areas in Pennsylvania, Montgomery County, the local housing authority, according to Habitat, figures there are more than 5700 substandard homes. Leaking roofs, faulty plumbing or electricity, and pest infestation plague the inhabitants. Habitat estimates that about one third of county residents pay dearly for housing - nearly one third of their income.
Kirkwood related examples of how the padlocks on the doors of bedrooms inside houses or apartment buildings that appeared to meet standards belied the fact that each room was home to a whole migrant worker family.
Several participants at the orientation already had Habitat experience. Kapil Kulakkunnath, a young electrical engineer, worked on a project in Brazil last July. A retired gentleman was just days back from volunteer work in Portugal, his third international venture.
Kirkwood showed a short work safety video then led the group outdoors to see the handsome-looking homes farther up the street built by Habitat through the efforts of faith groups. The tour ended at a “hole in the ground” from where a building foundation was emerging. For a week in May, 54 women who want to learn construction skills will descend, but not all at once, for a motivational and high energy “Women Build” program to put up the framing.
From the enthusiasm of the tour participants, it seems likely that in the weeks to follow some of us may well be found lending a hand converting what began as a hole in the ground into a new home for a family in need.