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My Build-a-Thon Experience: Brendan Cooney

Posted by in A Brush with Kindness, News | Comments Off on My Build-a-Thon Experience: Brendan Cooney
My Build-a-Thon Experience: Brendan Cooney

Before the sun rose on Sunday, June 4th I was already well on my way to Longmont, Colorado where I would participate in the 18th annual Habitat AmeriCorps Build-a-Thon.  This year’s event spanned three separate weeks in two states, Iowa and Colorado.  AmeriCorps members engaged the community and volunteers in a week-long blitz to help build, repair, and landscape as many homes as possible.  Throughout my service term, I had heard stories of the famed Build-a-Thon from countless AmeriCorps members and alumni who spoke of how memorable their experiences were.  After months of counting down the days on my calendar, it was finally THE day.  I knew ahead of me was a week’s worth of hard work, but I couldn’t help but feel as if I were going to summer camp again.  I was excited beyond measure, and unfortunately for the passengers who sat next to me on my early morning flight… restless too.  I looked forward to learning new construction skills, making an impact on the community, and of course, seeing all the friends I had made while at the Habitat for Humanity National Service Leadership Conference several months prior.  In total, over 100 AmeriCorps members from across the United States lent their hands at project sites across Colorado.  My time was spent working with the St. Vrain Valley Habitat affiliate which focused their efforts in the greater Longmont area.

After arriving in Colorado, we were treated to a beautiful opening ceremony dinner at the Longmont Convention Center which celebrated AmeriCorps and Habitat for Humanity’s longstanding partnership.  On stage, site supervisors from the various projects introduced themselves and outlined what work would be performed.  The St. Vrain Valley affiliate’s projects consisted of framing, roofing, drywall, and a Neighborhood Revitalization project.  Towards the end of dinner, the host of the ceremony walked to the stage and said, “Tonight we have a very special guest,” and pointed to someone in the audience; a small elderly woman named Mary carefully rose from her seat.  After a several seconds of silence she spoke, “Uh… hello!”  What followed after she spoke could best be described as a universal “Aww!” emanating from the crowd.  Mary spoke in great length about the current disrepair of her home, but spoke in greater length about how thankful she was for us being there to help her and other families in the area.  The site supervisor for Mary’s home then stood and asked for volunteers.  Without thinking, I quickly found myself with my arm raised high above my head.

We all struggled to stay awake on the long bus rides to Mary’s home in Dacono in the mornings.  When we arrived, we were greeted with smiles by our site supervisors and given a brief safety lecture and daily project goals.  The work varied widely each day.  On Monday we removed an old door from Mary’s home, reinforced the area with studs, and added sturdy plywood to continue the wall.  I learned how to use several new types of saws and how walls are framed using wooden studs.  The following day, we cut, measured, and installed decorative siding to the wall replacement.  Additionally, a coat of paint primer was brushed along the walls of the inside of Mary’s kitchen and living room, as well as on the exterior of her home after being treated with TSP and cleaned thoroughly.  The next two days were spent adding several coats of beautiful, ivory-white paint to the exterior of her home and a light, salmon-pink to the inside walls of her living room and kitchen.  On the first day, one of the supervisors said, “If we work hard, in one week’s time Mary won’t be able to recognize her home it’s going to look so good!”

I switched project sites during the first day of painting to work at the new home build project in Longmont.  I had never been on a construction site of that magnitude before (a duplex for two families) and was eager to assist my peers with framing and roofing.  In a single day I gained a wealth of knowledge.  I used new tools like the nail gun, and learned to navigate the scaffolding of the construction site with confidence.  I also learned new construction techniques for reinforcing framing and the functions of various building materials.  I was overwhelmed with pride to work side by side with dozens of my peers on a construction project of that size.  Humbled, I watched my friends and coworkers work with determination and accomplish a staggering amount of work.  Above, below, and all around me the sounds of hammers, nail guns, and saws could be heard.  It took me some time to adjust to the constant noise, reminding me of a bustling city street.   Although working at the new home-build site was fun, I returned to Mary’s home the following day to help finish painting.  That evening, the site supervisor and I went to the local Habitat ReStore and purchased a new kitchen table and light.  Finally, we replaced the old, tattered carpet in her living room with new interior carpet.  We then cleaned Mary’s kitchen floor and added laminated hardwood flooring to her entire kitchen and set up the new table and light.   In just a few days, the home was unrecognizable.

The work was difficult and the Colorado sunshine – merciless, but I worked with an incredible team of AmeriCorps and Habitat supervisors who helped me forge an unforgettable experience.  If I was unsure of how to use a tool or what to do, someone was there to patiently show me.  If I was thirsty, someone was there give me water.  If I struggled to carry something, someone was always there to help.  The greatest part of my trip, aside from the individuals and communities I served, were the AmeriCorps I served with.  I had never met many of them before, yet somehow they felt like close friends or even family.  From late night adventures and board games, to 30 minute jokes and deep conversations about life, I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun.  Although I wish I could relive that week, I will carry those memories with me always.  Looking back, Build-a-Thon was a life-changing experience allowing me to witness first-hand the transformative power of having a decent place to live on an individual level and on the level of the community.  With my time as an AmeriCorps coming to an end, it was beautiful to see the power of service in action and to be with my AmeriCorps family one last time.

AmeriCorps is funded by the Corporation for National and Community Service and engages over 80,000 Americans each year in intensive public service.  Habitat for Humanity hosts more than 500 AmeriCorps members in 41 states, helping to build Habitat’s capacity to serve more families across the country.  Click here to how to learn more about Habitat AmeriCorps and become involved!