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A Habitat home: Building with love ... and help

Yesterday, my children returned from their summer on the Front Range to prepare for another school year and a season of Pagosa Springs Parks and Recreation soccer. Enthused as they are about meeting new teachers, making new friends and eating orange slices during halftime, they are especially excited to see how our house is coming along.

They will be amazed.

I know I am.

After breaking ground in early June and then seeing the foundation go in, I confess that I was a bit underwhelmed, the house’s footprint appeared tiny, a cracker box. “How in the world are we going to fit in this thing?” I asked myself.

What a difference two months makes. With the roof on, plumbing and electrical in, windows and doors installed and much of the wood siding up, the perspective has radically changed. I can walk through the house and see where everyone’s bedrooms are, I can imagine making meals in our kitchen, I can picture us watching a movie together on a frigid, snowy evening.

By no means a mansion, the house has nonetheless seemed to quadruple in size. Cozy, of course, but no cracker box and becoming beautiful with each passing day.

None of this would have been possible without the exceptional dedication of Habitat for Humanity volunteers — probably the most amazing aspect of this building process. Every time I go to the work site I’m astounded, not just by the hard work they put in (which is awe-inspiring) but with the obvious love they appear to have with the work. It’s as if I have a hundred friends working together to make my children and me the grandest gift of all.

Ours is not just a stick-built house (nothing prefabricated about it) but one built with a kind of care and love scarcely, if ever, evident in other homes. Some kit-built McMansion taking up space amidst suburban sprawl is an impersonal and dispassionate disappointment compared to our homey Habitat house.

Think of it: A house built from the ground up with love and tenderheartedness, not a thought given to a profit motive or greed but built out of open hearts and the desire to see a low-income family make an investment in the community.

The advantage is obvious — with love inherent in every nail and board, what my children and I bring will expand that, experience an abundance that is ineffable and unavailable for any amount of money or influence.

My own investment in the house is part of the bargain; we’re not being given a house outright but expected to provide more than just love. By the time the house has been completed (somewhere between mid-October and mid-November), I will need to have saved enough funds in an escrow account to pay for the closing. Once paid, I will sign a mortgage agreement, committing to making monthly payments like any other homeowner (but it beats tossing my paycheck to the wind on rent payments!).

In the words of the Habitat motto, “Offering not a hand out but a hand up.”

Furthermore, there are “sweat equity” hours that need to be fulfilled, 100 hours from me and 300 hours from friends and family.

Last week, Habitat held a “Board Build Day” when members of the Habitat board came out to work on the house. After lunch (hot dogs and brautwurst), I sat down with Cindi Galabota (executive director of the Archuleta County Habitat office) to discuss my hours, so far.

Stating she was confident that I’d easily achieve the 100 hours required from me, she said she had concerns with the 300 friends-and-family hours I needed. Indeed, with no family in the area (any hours my children accrue from good grades go to my own sweat equity account) and with few friends, being relatively new to Pagosa, it’s been nearly impossible to grab the few people I know to volunteer a day to work on the house.

One of Cindi’s solutions was to schedule a “Jim McQuiggin Build Day” such that people volunteering that day would all count their hours towards my 300 required hours for friends and family.

After throwing around various dates to schedule the “Jim McQuiggin Build Day” (Aug. 28 was out as it’s already a “Seeds of Learning” build day, the following weekend out due to Labor Day), we determined Sept. 11 would be the day.

The day after my son’s birthday, I couldn’t think of a better day to accumulate friends and family hours. Mister will get to begin his eighth year watching fellow Pagosans add their sweat equity into the house where he’ll grow up. While Mister, Middle Child and Eldest won’t be able to work on the job site (other than picking up nails and other trash), they will experience how a community comes together for offering a “hand up.”

Anyone interested in participating in the Sept. 11 “Jim McQuiggin Build Day” needs to call 264-6960 to R.S.V.P. since lunch is provided for all volunteers (always on Thursday and Saturday build days) but also to prevent too many people showing up to the construction site (if there are more volunteers than we can handle, another “Jim McQuiggin Build Day” will be scheduled).

Of course, anyone wishing to volunteer on another day can show up at the 63 Grenadier Drive site in Lake Hatcher on the scheduled Thursday and Saturday build days.

Likewise, any restaurant, caterer or busy cook is welcome to come out and feed the volunteers, with the food and the hours of preparation that went into it going towards the 300 friends and family hours.

As always, materials and material donations are also accepted (a wood-burning stove still high on my wish list). Just recently, La Plata Electric Association generously donated $2,000 through their LPEA Round-Up which went towards the roofing materials on my home. It’s truly an example of a community coming together to help build a home.

Everyone is welcome to volunteer for the “Jim McQuiggin Build Day” but volunteers are asked to call 264-6960 to let the Habitat for Humanity volunteer coordinator know how many people to expect. Hopefully, we’ll get a big enough response to schedule another build day.

I’ll be there and so will my kids. I hope to see you there and thank you in person.

jim@pagosasun.com