Mary Stokes has many hobbies typical of a retired teacher, including gardening, reading, and sewing. Sewing, however, is at least temporarily on hold for Stokes, replaced by a brand new and perhaps more surprising hobby: construction work.
“I do like to sew, but I need a new machine,” says Stokes. “I was saving for one, but I ended up buying an impact driver instead.”
Prior to last year, Stokes had no construction experience. Now, she’s one of the most familiar faces on Habitat for Humanity’s 477 Hilchey Road build site.
“I wanted to learn how to build and I wanted to do some volunteer work. My partner suggested Habitat, and I thought it sounded perfect, but then I thought, ‘I don’t know a thing about building. I’ll just be in the way.’”
Despite her concerns, Stokes attended a build information session where she was assured no experience was necessary to volunteer.
Her first memory of volunteering is how nervous she felt on her first day, and how quickly those nerves were alleviated: “Everyone was so friendly and easy to get along with. People would constantly show me how to do stuff, but once they show you, they actually let you do it. They don’t hover over your shoulder.”
She ended up enjoying the experience not despite the deep learning curve, but because of it.
A highlight for Stokes has been working side-by-side with the future homeowners and seeing firsthand the impact homeownership will have on their lives.
“The far side we’re going to be finishing first is going to be Stefan’s family. He’s done way more than his 500 hours [the ‘sweat equity’ Habitat homeowners do in lieu of a down payment]. He was at last year’s build, he saw the other families get their home, and now he’s getting his turn. It’s just really cool to see that. It makes me feel good.”
What does Stokes have to say to others in the community who have considered coming out to build with Habitat?
“I would tell them it’s very worthwhile thing. If they have experience, their skills will be very helpful to us, but if they don’t have skills, they, like me, will have the opportunity to learn some. They’ll get to see the families benefitting so much.”
While Stokes mostly has only positive things to say about the experience, she does issue one warning to potential volunteers:
“They might gain some weight. I gain weight when I’m here because they feed us so well, so that’s a cautionary note.”
For Stokes, giving back to her community and the camaraderie she’s found among the other volunteers and staff aren’t the only reasons she keeps returning to Habitat. She loves the laughter and teasing found on the build site, but she’s also serious about the opportunity to continuously improve her skills and herself.
“As you get older, to know that you can still be doing something new and different that you’ve never done in your life, that feels good too,” Stokes explains. “That’s different than the community aspect; that’s the personal growth aspect.”
To get involved on a Habitat build like Mary, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or schedule yourself for a shift directly.