When one thinks of a construction worker, the first image that comes to mind is likely not a woman. And until Rosie the Riveter showed up in World War II, it was even more unlikely. But as women continue to gain equality in all areas of work, it becomes apparent that they are just as capable and willing to do labor that has been traditionally the realm of men. And based on the turnout for Habitat for Humanity’s National Women Build week, it is also clear that women from all over the United States and all walks of life are willing to pick up a hammer to help those in need, while gaining independence at the same time. And the impetus behind the Women Build program is to highlight the unique challenges women face when it comes to home ownership, whether it’s obtaining a home or simply maintaining it.
Women Build happens the week before Mother’s Day (second Sunday of May). Around 300 Habitat for Humanity affiliates participate, with tens of thousands of women and men coming together to celebrate and empower women and their abilities. Taos’ own Habitat affiliate has been a participant for nearly a decade now, and this year is no exception. Habitat for Humanity of Taos hosts a three-day build, which will span Thursday through Saturday, May 11-13. Volunteers are welcome to participate in just one or two days or all three. The Taos event sees a lot of repeat participants every year, including a few mother/daughter pairs, who do it together as a fun bonding experience.
There are two advantages to Taos that other Habitat affiliates don’t have, one of them being location: Many groups come from out of town because it’s a real opportunity to visit Northern New Mexico. As Cynthia Arvidson, executive director, explains, “These visiting workgroups, there’s other places that take them, so we’re kind of in competition, so one of the things that we promote, obviously, is Taos because it’s so unique and beautiful — and the adobe construction.” Taos is only one of two Habitat affiliates that builds with adobe bricks. Every volunteer group that comes in gets the opportunity to make adobe. As Arvidson says, “We like everybody to be able to at least touch them and make a set, even if we’re not at that stage on the worksite. We can always sell them at the ReStore.” The Habitat Taos ReStore is where construction materials and supplies are donated, sold and repurposed. It is important to note that none of the funding for the Taos affiliate comes from Habitat International. All money is raised from donations, fundraisers and sales from the ReStore.
A new feature of the Women Build event this year will be the addition of a hammering competition called “She Nailed It!” featuring teams of four, the goal of which will be to see which team can hammer a predetermined number of nails the fastest. This is just one of the additional fundraising opportunities associated with the event. Last year, there was a Friday night fundraiser at Natural Accents Gallery, which consisted of a percentage of gallery sales that night earmarked to benefit Habitat, a silent auction and wine and hors d’oeuvres.
And every year, an effort is made to find local women-owned businesses to sponsor — in 2016, there were four. In addition to local sponsorship, Lowe’s of Española is a partner of the Taos build and provides incentives to the event: If Habitat Taos meets all the criteria, it gets $5,000 in spending credit at Lowe’s. One of the criteria is that there need to be 50 volunteers in the event, with at least 75 percent of them being women. So while men are welcome and do participate, the majority of the crew should be women. As a partner, Lowe’s also provides all the schwag that is given to the volunteers, which in the past has included such items as pep rags, work aprons, cups and of course, T-shirts donning the Women Build logo.
Women Build has proven to be a successful endeavor, both in fundraising and in participation. Habitat International’s statement on the event is this: “Our goal with Women Build is to empower women to help families build strength, stability and independence. We at Habitat have the ability to provide opportunities for hands-on learning, and given these tools, women can succeed in changing
Arvidson adds, “That’s what’s so cool about this, it’s to empower women and make them feel comfortable on the job site, because if we were to jump down to Santa Fe or Albuquerque and walk up to their job site, it would probably be very few women. It’s usually men on a job site and so it’s very intimidating to a lot of women, so this is to empower them to feel comfortable, to use tools that they’ve never used before, to learn a process they’ve never done before.” Arvidson emphasizes that the point of the build isn’t just for altruistic reasons, although that is an essential part, but it’s also about helping women to gain additional skills — a number of the participants come just to gain knowledge and hands-on construction experience.
For more information on participation or sponsorship, call (575) 758-7827 or visit taoshabitat.org.