“I spent many years in Central America dealing with destruction — when I retired I became involved with construction,” said Joe Towle, a Maryknoll Priest who lives in Harwich Port, during a lunch break at the Habitat for Humanity of Cape Cod’s recent building project on Paul Hush Way off Tubman Road in Brewster.
Having dealt with the harmful products of corrupt government, criminal activity and poverty in several Latin American nations, he welcomed the chance to become one of the many volunteers who are the core of a movement which builds much needed affordable housing across the Cape.
“I look upon construction with Habitat as an undoing of some of the destruction in the world,” Towle says, and as a member of the group's board of directors, he helps oversee all aspects of a program that involves its own staff and the Habitat ReStore, the local reuse store that accepts donations and sells home improvement items at a fraction of the retail price, with the proceeds used to support Habitat projects. He also deals with professional electricians, plumbers and other contractors, sponsors who give $50,000 per building, volunteers, many of whom are senior citizens, as well as homeowners.
Established in 1988, Habitat for Humanity of Cape Cod has built affordable homes in all 15 towns on the Cape using licensed contractors, volunteers, and future residents who invest 250 hours of “sweat equity” in the program’s projects and receive a low-interest mortgage that allows them actually to own their home. Overall, the agency has built 142 homes.
Many Habit volunteers are seniors who offer their skills and talents to the building of the houses and the creation of new neighborhoods.
Work at the Brewster site officially began at 8 a.m. and ended at 3 p.m. every Tuesday and Saturday, with a break at 10 a.m. that brings everyone together for refreshments, fellowship, and a meditation by one of the local clergy. This day it was given by Pastor Christian Holleck of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church of Harwich.
Judy Lodi and her husband Bob have lived in Chatham for five years, retiring to the Cape, as is often the case, after several summers spent vacationing there. They have volunteered with Habitat for four years — Brewster is their fourth build. When asked the activities in which they engage on any given workday, they replied, “Whatever Desmond McMahon, the site manager and head carpenter, wants us to do.” Which suits them fine, since their reason for volunteering initially was “to help out Habitat anyway we could.” What has surprised them the most is that they are usually assigned activities they can do together, having expected to be separated and given different tasks on any workday.
Other than projects requiring professional licensed contractors, Habitat volunteers do just about everything from actual construction to cleaning up a work site or mentoring a family during and after the building process. According to Judy Lodi, who is also a hospice volunteer, that can include shingling a house in a snowstorm. The Lodis and other volunteers said they find the close working relationship with others involved in a build to be the most rewarding aspect of their volunteer participation in Habitat’s mission.
Nancy Apple, who lives in Harwich, has been retired four years but only began to volunteer with Habitat last September. Also willing to do whatever she is asked, Apple takes special pride in having reorganized the onsite tool shed. Committed to making a difference through community service, she particularly welcomes working with the homeowners and helping them through the process of building, purchasing and occupying their new home.
John Hall is from Brewster, has lived on the Cape for 18 years and volunteered with Habitat for the past 11. He first became involved when one of its builds was located near his church. Well-known as the bathroom tile man, he will soon complete the tiling of his 100th bathroom.
While volunteers have always been key elements in the success of Habitat for Humanity on Cape Cod and beyond, recruiting new ones can be challenging. Retired men and women are often in a better position to make themselves available on the days and hours when work is done on a building site, but persons of any age are welcome and encouraged to become involved in what most feel is a very rewarding activity.
In summing up their reasons for volunteering with Habitat for Humanity of Cape Cod, many senior volunteers said they enjoyed the sense that they were part of a community of people who know, respect and trust each other, and who are equally committed to serving the needs of those who might not have what we have been blessed with.