Women join forces to make a difference in Washtenaw County

From the Ann Arbor News (MLive)

YPSILANTI TOWNSHIP, MI – A group of women met on International Women’s Day to rip out rotted flooring and window frames to help create a home for another woman in Washtenaw County.

The four women, part of Habitat for Humanity of Huron Valley’s Women Build committee, met at 9 a.m. Thursday, March 8, at 1540 McCarthy St. in Ypsilanti Township to start a renovation that will continue into the summer.

That’s when the new homeowner will move in to a house with a brand-new interior, courtesy of the Women Build program that has transformed houses each spring for the past four years in Washtenaw County.

Homeowners are required to commit 250 hours of “sweat equity,” and volunteer alongside others to complete work on the property, said Leah Borst, a development associate who has coordinated the Women Build program for the past two years.

They also must complete Habitat classes like home maintenance and finance before they can apply for a low-interest mortgage through the organization, and then select a house from the inventory and get started on renovations.

Borst talked about the impact she sees as a result of the Women Build program as committee members on Thursday worked nearby using crowbars to remove part of the subfloor while new windows leaned against the wall studs visible throughout the house.

The volunteers don’t care about chipped nails or how their hair looks, Borst pointed out, and are more focused on the project in front of them.

“It really hits home being a woman,” Borst said. “You have to experience it for yourself, the movement we’re making. It’s just the camaraderie and the way the women rally together to support another woman.”

The impact is so strong that last year’s homeowner, Andrea Johnson, has since joined the program as a volunteer and continues to work with Habitat, Borst said.

A majority of the women in Habitat’s homeownership program are single mothers, Borst pointed out, who have been turned down by traditional mortgage companies for insufficient income or bad credit.

“There’s definitely no shortage of women in need of a home,” Borst said.

The program has built interest over the years and garnered sponsors like the James A. and Faith Foundation and supporters like PNC Financial Services and Lowe’s.

About $44,000 has been raised to fund renovations for this year’s program, Borst said, with a future goal of extending the program to work on two houses per year.

Around 13 groups of women are signed up to volunteer at this year’s renovation site, and volunteers are still being sought for open days like May 4, Borst said.

Those interested can contact her at lborst@h4h.org for more information.

It is the first time Steve Clark, senior house leader at Habitat, has been able to work with the Women Build program and he said there’s a lot of excitement to see what his Habitat coworkers can do.

“It’s cool to get them out of the office,” Clark said. “We’re always in their world; now they’re in my world. Everybody’s going to get some experience.”

Among the women volunteering Thursday was Katherine Rich, president of Habitat’s board of directors, who worked to remove nails from the subfloor.

“There’s always a job for someone to do,” Rich said, taking a quick break from the day’s work. “As you can tell, we’re still in the demo stage.”

She appreciates the opportunity to increase her own knowledge when it comes to home construction and maintenance, like operating a table saw, and to witness the excitement of new homeowners.

“It’s nice to see someone looking around at a space they know will be theirs,” Rich said. “I’ve learned you can do things you may think you cannot do. After a day of work, you really see what you can do.”

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