A building blitz
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It looked like complete chaos.
People swarmed over the Beaver Falls building site last week. There were people on the roof spreading tar paper and wielding hammers. People on the ground walked wheelbarrows, ran power saws, ferried packages of insulation, picked up trash and delivered water bottles and doughnuts through the half-built house's windows.
Tiger Pause director Matt Nance talks about the joy he felt on the first day of work.
Michael Stanton of Hosanna Industries talks about how the home-building charity works.
Homeowner Jodessa Kirkland discusses her feelings about the house that was being built for her.
Inside, meanwhile, was as crowded as a frat party, but with no beer and only hammers and staple guns to provide dance music. Getting a tour involved edging sideways through a maze of workers, ladders and stacks of drywall.
"Seventeen years, we've blitz-built over 100 homes," said Michael Stanton, of Hosanna Industries, a Rochester-based charity that provides homes for the needy. "Hosanna has become very, very good at utilizing volunteer labor."
The 50-some volunteers had been divided into crews assigned to Hosanna staff members, who are expert in going from foundation to finished product in five days. They give their crew members a quick training session each morning and set them to work; they know the work flow well enough to keep them going.
"If you can hang one piece of insulation, you can hang 50," Hosanna staffer Julie Wettach said. "You just have to keep moving."
And keep moving the volunteers did, clear through until Saturday afternoon, when the leaders of the "blitz build" presented a key to new homeowner Jodessa Kirkland. A single mother who previously lived in a Beaver Falls apartment, Ms. Kirkland will be responsible for a mortgage that covers the cost of building materials -- far less than the value of the completed house.
"It's exciting; I'm very excited," Ms. Kirkland said, noting that home ownership has been one of her goals in life. "I told myself I wanted to own my own home by the time I was 30, so this is three years in advance."
And she found it incredibly moving that so many people -- strangers to herself and her daughter -- would work so hard for her.
"I think if times ever get hard for me, I can think back to days like this morning. I saw all the volunteers there and their children and the hard work," she said. "And they're coming up to me and hugging me and telling me they were happy for me, and then they all applauded for me, and I was like, 'No! I'm applauding for you guys! You are out here all day in the heat doing this for me!' And they don't even know me!Robin Rombach, Post-Gazette
More than 100 volunteers work the first day on the Hosanna Industries house being constructed in Beaver Falls.
Click photo for larger image.
"I'll look back to this day, and it'll keep me pressing on."
Such sentiments are welcome to leaders of the Beaver Falls Housing Coalition, which organized last week's house-building event and has plans for four more on the same property.
The coalition was launched by Del Goedeker, a Beaver County businessman who donates to both Hosanna Industries and the Beaver Falls youth charity, Tiger Pause.
"He said, 'I think there is synergy between these two ministries.' We thought, 'You're dreaming,' because we couldn't figure this out," former Geneva College president Jack White said. Mr. White, who retired in 2004, has been helping lead and organize the coalition.
Mr. Goedeker, however, was right -- Hosanna knew how to build houses; Tiger Pause knew how to find worthy potential homeowners and could provide volunteers.
From there, as Tiger Pause director Matt Nance put it, "the Lord just took over."
The city of Beaver Falls and the Beaver Initiative for Growth donated land at the end of 18th Street, overlooking a bike trail and the Beaver River. Local churches organized volunteers. Legal, financial and engineering services and plumbing work was donated. A local teacher who has a summer roofing business donated time.
Tiger Pause helped identify Ms. Kirkland as a worthy recipient; she has a steady job at Advanced Alloy in Ambridge, and has shown she can handle the responsibility of a mortgage.
"Yesterday was probably the most joyful day I've had being director of Tiger Pause," Mr. Nance said, referring to July 31, when 100 volunteers got the entire shell of the house built, starting from the foundation. "I actually felt like I was a part of something, being a part of the body of Christ and watching the body of Christ, people from all denominations, people from all walks of life, actually join in and get a common goal done."
Working in a coalition was unusual for Hosanna, which generally takes applications directly for blitz builds and draws volunteers from an established pool of church groups.Robin Rombach, Post-Gazette
Janet Chamberlain, 21, a Geneva College student, helps Ed Murdy, of E.J. Electric in Bridgeville, run the wiring in the roof of the house.
Click photo for larger image.
But it has advantages: The coalition provided a ready-made labor pool and will also ensure that there is follow-up. Ms. Kirkland and the other eventual homeowners on the property will have established relationships with local groups that can help support them if they need it.
Ms. Kirkland is, at this point, more interested in helping others than in more help for herself.
"I'm going to put my all into it because I know they put their all into it for me," she said of the many volunteers. "And if anybody needs help, and if they need me to come lift something or build, hey, here I am."
The house itself is small -- a kitchen, living room and three simple bedrooms with a small attic above and a 5-foot crawl space beneath -- but is more than Ms. Kirkland ever dreamed of providing for herself and her 8-year-old daughter. "A brand-new home is beyond what I ever imagined I would have for her," she said.
The house's one truly special feature is the porch on the back, with French doors leading from the living room and a view of the bike trail, the woods beyond and the tree-covered slope on the other side of the Beaver River.
"It's beautiful, the mountainside!" Ms. Kirkland said. "I'll definitely be out there, drinking my coffee, looking at the mountainside."
It's a far cry from what the property was before; It was occupied by piles of discarded tires and a large shed described as "an iconic example of Appalachian 'anything you can nail together' architecture" in a previous Post-Gazette story.
Beaver Initiative for Growth had the building razed and disposed of the tires, paving the way for a five-home addition to the neighborhood.
"I think it's wonderful," neighbor Gail Smith said, checking out the work from the bike trail. She said she did not know Ms. Kirkland, but had seen her at a church function, and heard about her new house.
"I was so happy for her, I had tears in my eyes," she said.
Ms. Smith said the pace of work on the house was "amazing."
"A couple of days ago there was nothing there, and now there's a house there."
First Published August 9, 2007 5:35 am