Habitat for Humanity taps new volunteers with Women Build

MEDFORD, Ore. (AP) With beads of sweat dripping from her forehead, 62-year-old Bonnie Rott helped hold a 4-foot piece of siding against a wall of what will soon be a single-story home in southwest Medford.

Vickie Augustine, 52, stood behind her armed with a nail gun, ready to secure the siding onto the walls.

"Let it go for a minute," 72-year-old Barbara Guisier told Rott, her sister, as she pulled a tape measure out of her pocket, placing it against the siding. "Forty-five inches and three-eighths? No, not that far. Forty-five and a quarter." Rott repeated the measurement out loud while she rushed to a cutting board.

The three women have been working together since April with several dozen volunteers to build a home near South Medford High School as part of Rogue Valley Habitat for Humanity's Women Build project to teach women construction skills.

The house, which will be home to a single mother with three children, will be the first Habitat house in the valley constructed mostly by women.

The women have worked up to three days a week for six hours a day, doing everything from installing foam insulation to framing walls to roofing.

"It's been awesome," Augustine said over the constant buzz of power tools. "It's a great feeling to stop and think, 'Wow. We're building this thing from the ground up.' "

The Women Build house is one of 43 houses Rogue Valley Habitat for Humanity has built for low-income residents in Jackson County since its founding in 1987. By the end of this year, said Denise James, executive director for the local Habitat for Humanity, the organization expects to have completed 45 houses.

The organization has had Women Build projects during its National Women Build Week in late April, but has never built a house with women-only labor, James said. A core group of eight women have worked every week on the house, James said, but she expected more volunteers to work on the project.

"We had a hard time getting enough women to come and help," she said, which is why several men have assisted the women with heavy lifting and siding to complete the house by early October.

Tiffany Schmelzer, volunteer coordinator for the project, said when the organization began recruiting volunteers, about 75 women showed interest, but only 30 women have contributed to the project so far. Aeropostale clothing store and Lowe's Home Improvement also had groups of women help with construction.

Schmelzer said the project still needs more women volunteers, regardless of construction experience.

Although the three women working on a recent Wednesday morning appreciated the men's help and have enjoyed working alongside them, Augustine said they've made sure the men don't start taking over.

"We've had to say, 'We're here to do this,'" she said. "We're here to learn."

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.