On April 28, 2016, women volunteers in pink hard hats gathered together in the Lowe’s parking lot off Brodie Lane for Girls Night Out, the kick off event for National Women Build Week. In partnership with Lowe’s locations across the country, Habitat for Humanity’s Women Build program encourages women to dedicate their time to assist in building homes for families in need of affordable housing.
This service impacts recipient families by providing them the independence of homeownership. At the same time, volunteers are educated in construction skills as they build the framework of a house. The event revolves around the idea of empowering women to inspire each other as they make a tangible difference in their community.
Austin Among 10 U.S. Cities to Host Girls Night Out
From April 30 through May 8, more than 17,000 volunteers from Lowe’s, Habitat for Humanity and 300 communities nationwide will participate in building homes for 650 families during National Women Build Week, getting closer to Habitat for Humanity’s goal of helping 1,000 families acquire safe and stable homes before the holidays.
Habitat for Humanity International chose Austin alongside nine other U.S. cities to participate in hosting a Girls Night Out event this year, and Austin Habitat for Humanity could not have been more energetic about the opportunity. “It’s been a good partnership and I’m excited about taking this to the next level this year….I’m just proud that we were selected to be one of the 10 that got to do it for the first time this year,” shared Phyllis Snodgrass, CEO of Austin Habitat for Humanity.
Food Trucks, Music, Crafts Lighten the Evening
Throughout the evening, volunteers composed mainly of women wielding hammers and nails assembled the wooden bones of the house. In a matter of three hours, the approximately 50 volunteers went from piles of cut wood and a few door and window components to raising the framework of the house. No power tools were used; everything was done by hand-nailing.
In conjunction with the main assembly, volunteers also created painted welcome mats and decorated planters. Pop music favorites blasted from loud speakers as everyone worked, enjoying each other’s company as they gave back to the community. Emojis Grilled Cheese, f’real milkshakes and smoothies, and Rosarito food truck were parked nearby to satisfy hungry helpers throughout the evening. Volunteers even won raffle and door prizes such as Deep Eddy’s Peach Vodka, spa packages, a Treaty Oak Distillery tour and more.
Win-Sein Family Finds Stability Through Women Build Week
The recipient of the 1,087-square-foot, single-story home is the Win-Sein family: political refugees Ma Win and her husband, Ko Lay. Ma Win and Ko Lay hail from Myanmar, a country torn from civil and political turmoil. Their story illustrates perseverance against countless hardships. They fled to Thailand to escape the surmounting tension in their country after the 8888 Uprising, and later met in a United Nations refugee camp.
For four years, they continually relocated between Thailand and Malaysia, bribing militarized border control and encountering other dangers as they struggled to find work and stability. Ultimately, they received political asylum and immigrated into the United States, making Austin their new home to pursue their dreams.
During the Girls Night Out event, Ma Win personally thanked Habitat for Humanity, Lowe’s and the volunteers as her voice vibrated with heartfelt gratitude in her native Burmese language. Ko Lay teared up, as did I, when she said, “We can’t tell you enough how we feel about this. We want to thank all of you for welcoming us here and, most of all, for your time, your generosity and all of your hard work you’re putting into our home. Every day of our new life living in this home, we will remember each and every one of you in our prayers” (translated).
Making an Impact on Affordable Housing Crisis
One of the goals of Habitat for Humanity International is to highlight the housing hardships faced by women in developing countries who have with limited property rights, and immigrants arriving into U.S. cities where residents face affordability issues. Austin residents have wrestled with affordability as the city’s population has officially expanded to two million people.
Alongside rising property taxes and zoning dilemmas that cause developers to grapple with delays, Austin’s high demand and limited supply have caused residents to seek housing elsewhere. Snodgrass shared that 36% of Travis County residents are spending almost half their income on housing.
“Those of us who have been living in Austin for a long time also realize that it’s very difficult for the average family to afford a home even if you have a great job,” stated former KEYE broadcast journalist Judy Maggio. “It’s gotten to the point that we’ve outpriced middle class families from owning a home in Austin. This is a way we can make housing affordable for families that are in need.”
As Chairman for Austin Habitat for Humanity Women Build Week 2016, Maggio celebrated the efforts of volunteers on the evening of April 28 with a raised pink hammer from her personal toolkit, exclaiming a rally cry of “women power!”
Promoting Strength, Stability and Self-Reliance
Phyllis Snodgrass pointed out that the work Habitat for Humanity does is far from over, although she is proud of what the organization has accomplished. “People don’t always realize that Habitat has to have money to build the homes and then we sell them to the homeowner. We hold the mortgage, and we’re also the bank and the lender. It takes a long time before we get money back, and we’re a nonprofit, so there’s little or no interest on it. We’re selling them at an affordable sales price, so we never really get everything back. That is why we need these sponsorships and funds to help with it.”
Volunteers and sponsorships are necessary to benefit the lives of recipient families. Habitat for Humanity not only helps them to secure a home, but also provides families with the tools necessary to develop credit, manage their home and finances, and make repairs. “We’re the largest builder of affordable homes in Austin that are sold to families, but we have a lot more work to do,” Snodgrass exclaimed with a smile.
2016 National Women Build Week is April 30 to May 8, 2016. The Win-Sein family and volunteers will celebrate the raising of the walls of the new home at 8 a.m. on May 7.
For more information on how you can get involved with Austin’s Women Build Week and Habitat for Humanity in general, visit their website. The organization is specifically seeking individual sponsorships at this time.
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