When I came to work at Pacific Retail Partners a few months back, one of the conditions Mike Jensen (President/CEO) set for me was to work on three community service projects. It’s the type of guy he is, and one of the reasons I wanted to work for him; he’s successful in business and generous in service. I called Erin Rank, the president/CEO of Habitat, who I’d known through the Rotary Club of Long Beach, and who had helped a team from my former employer participate in the “Hollywood for Habitat for Humanity Blitz Build” several years ago. Every volunteer on that program felt something incredibly positive and rewarding in their Habitat experience. Our goal was to get the Pacific Retail Partners team out of the office for a day to work on a construction project in Long Beach. Team bonding for a good cause.
Erin put me in touch with the right staff, Deborah Lewis, Programs Manager, who shared available projects and dates. There weren’t any current or near term projects in Long Beach, but a variety of projects the following month (June). One of the programs offered is called “A brush with kindness” and the date worked for our team, June 5th. I remember a similar Habitat program from my days in college in Durham, North Carolina. Several fraternity brothers and I went into an older neighborhood and spent a rewarding day fixing up an aging home.
But the location for our June 5th Habitat day was in Los Angeles, an hour’s drive and not our “home” community - although Pacific Retail Partners does business throughout Southern California. I was a little worried that the team wouldn’t be as excited about heading out of town during heavy traffic hours to work somewhere outside of Long Beach. Out went the e-mail to the team: we’re on for a Habitat project, meet at PRP parking lot 7 am.
June 5th dawned a beautiful, sunny day. We carpooled to Los Angeles and found the home, spying the telltale Habitat “POD” (large container) and dumpster in the front yard. John, one of our Habitat leaders, awaited our arrival. John is a former general contractor with years of experience leading Habitat projects. The homeowner is 70 years old woman, a widow of 10 years and a bit slower getting around. Her home was in need of attention and had been selected by Habitat for this Brush with Kindness. We greeted her as several other volunteers appeared, joining our Habitat team. They were from all walks of life – teachers, students, office workers and AmeriCorps members. To get the morning started, the 15 of us gathered in a circle and held hands as the homeowner led the team in a prayer that set the tone for the day’s work.
“A Brush with Kindness” - the name doesn’t tell the whole story. I was hoping our team would get to do more than just paint, and we weren’t disappointed. Habitat has been organizing these type of projects for decades and knows how to give volunteers a great experience while extracting a healthy amount of volunteer labor. John explained the available tasks and queried the crowd to understand as to construction experience and interest, but denying no one an opportunity to try something new. Most of the Habitat leaders have construction experience and are trained to teach the volunteers what they need to know. This makes for a compelling experience – learning new skills in a low pressure environment, having fun, partnering with friends and co-workers and new friends to complete projects. Our options were many: frame and pour concrete, plaster, stucco, build stairs, repair screens, frame doors, haul construction debris, surface a deck or paint.
So we donned our safety glasses and dove into our work. Paul, our burly man, and Annika, our not burly woman, joined forces to haul a rather large construction debris pile from the backyard to the dumpster. Mike mixed stucco and mortar, Kevin and I framed out a footing and mixed concrete while Mark S. and Brendan and Sally painted. We paused for a burrito lunch and talked with the other volunteers, learning more about AmeriCorps, one of the organizations that partners with Habitat to help provide solid leadership. As the day progressed, the team members switched tasks as needed. Annika and Mike stucco’ed, Mark S. framed a basement access cover, Kevin pounded nails and Paul framed a door.
The day wrapped up before we knew it. A new porch and stairs completed, three walls stucco’ed, screens and hatches and vents repaired, the yard cleaned and swept, and the house trim repainted. Our team shared a great sense of accomplishment and the satisfaction of a heartfelt hug and thank you from the homeowner. We drove home a happy, tired crew. There was more work to do, but we could rest assured that the next team Habitat for Humanity assembled would be there ready to work at 8:00 am Friday.
Click here for a photo slideshow.
Posted by: Mark L. Bixby
To find out more about Habitat's A Brush With Kindness Program, check out these post:
We are looking for weekday volunteers! For information about how you can offer "A Brush With Kindness," please visit our website.
Labels: A Brush With Kindness, erin rank, Habitat for Humanity Greater Los Angeles, hollywood for habitat, pacific retail partners, rotary club long beach, team building, volunteering