Event drives home Habitat mission work


The national Habitat for Humanity Women Build event held last week, from Thursday through Saturday, offered local and visiting lady builders of all experience levels and from all walks of life the opportunity to come together, develop new skills and support the nonprofit’s mission of building housing for those in need – with some fun twists thrown in for good measure.

The three-day event saw about 25 participants each day, with the series culminating in a competition Saturday afternoon (May 6). The event, called “She Nailed It,” was a construction-themed relay race that followed a day’s work on completing one of two homes being built by Habitat for Humanity’s Taos affiliate along Sunset Road, just behind the Taos Youth and Family Center.

Around 2:30 p.m., the five opposing teams – some representing local nonprofits – lined up on opposite ends of the muddy build site. The first team member on each side then loaded up a wheelbarrow with two 35-pound adobe bricks, hustled it over to another team member, who pinched up a 6-inch nail and hefted a hammer to drive it home into a wood block. The third team member then sawed a two-by-four in half before a fourth poured a bucket of water into a dirt-filled wheelbarrow, from which each team member then grabbed a clod and pitched it into a pile that would – eventually – form an adobe brick to be placed in the foundation of the home nearby.

“This part’s just for fun,” said Cynthia Arvidson, executive director of the Habitat for Humanity Taos affiliate for the past nine years.

She said that what lies at the heart of the annual Women Build event is introducing women to an industry traditionally occupied by men. The meaning behind that effort is punctuated by the fact that studies show that the majority of individuals affected by poor living conditions in the United States are women and children.

Here in Taos, Arvidson said, a family looking to find an affordable home can find the task nearly impossible without support.

“Taos is such a beautiful place that people want to come here to buy their houses,” she said. “That’s a great thing, but it also jacks up the prices for the homes.”

Even if one does find a home to buy, Arvidson’s organization estimates that the average purchase cost is about $300,000. “Somebody working minimum wage or even a little bit above that just can’t afford a house that costs that much,” she said.

This year, the Taos affiliate taken on two build projects, with only a portion of the funding to complete them secured so far. Typically, though, the organization can only cobble together enough funding to complete one.

“We build as we go and raise money as we go – and have to find all funding ourselves,” Arvidson said.

“We’re really excited to be building two houses, but it takes twice the materials, twice the cost.”

Arvidson said that many people assume that the organization receives funding from Habitat for Humanity International – the umbrella organization that provides broad guidelines for otherwise autonomous chapters like the one in Taos. “That’s just not the case,” she said. “We have to find all funding ourselves.

Other affiliates located in Santa Fe and Albuquerque are proximately located to major funding resources, like Home Depot, Lowe’s and Wells Fargo, which regularly contribute to Habitat’s mission work. “We don’t have that luxury,” Arvidson said. “We have to stay within our affiliate footprint, so that limits us.”

A nonprofit called Global Village provided funding and manpower for the current projects, with the Habitat ReStore thrift shop, located at 16 State Road 522 in El Prado, “pulling a very tight second,” Arvidson said.

The homes aren’t free, but “they’re interest free,” Arvidson said and explained a payback process she described as “sweat equity,” which involves each family putting in around 500 hours of labor for a home.

Arvidson and her colleagues are always looking for added assistance. “It doesn’t matter what your experience level is,” she said. “Everything helps.”

For more information on Habitat for Humanity-Taos, visit taoshabitat.org or call (575) 758-7827.