By Jan Todd
A chorus of hammers was set in motion over the last weekend, when more than 200 volunteers gathered at the App Builds a Home (ABAH) job site in Boone’s GreenWood subdivision to begin constructing a home in partnership with Watauga County Habitat for Humanity.
Since last fall, Appalachian State University’s ABAH team has been raising money and volunteer support for the project, which began to take physical shape during a “blitz build” on Sept. 21 and 22. Student, staff, faculty and alumni volunteers from Appalachian worked alongside the Habitat for Humanity Road Trip Crazies — a team of 50 Habitat enthusiasts who travel the country to kick-start home builds.
The Crazies, led by Tom Gerdy, of Lynchburg, Virginia, arrived in Boone Thursday, Sept. 19, coming from all over the East Coast. They spent Friday organizing and labeling construction materials, as well as planning the weekend’s workflow. Gerdy has led the group for 20 years, executing three to four blitz builds per year, he said.
The build began Saturday morning and ended Sunday evening. With the equivalent of 1,636 volunteer hours, the workers framed the house, put up exterior walls and siding, installed windows and doors, and built the front and side porches.
“I particularly like working with young people,” Gerdy said about his experience with the Appalachian students. “It is so rewarding to see their eyes light up, when they understand what it’s like to give others a hand up. When the volunteers walk away at the end of the workday, they can look back at all that was accomplished — and feel like heroes.”
Appalachian students volunteered for the ABAH project for a variety of reasons. Some were first-year students looking for ways to get involved and meet other students. Some were part of campus organizations with community service and outreach goals to achieve. Others were invited to participate by friends or just wanted to help.
Campbell Stone ’19, a graduate student from Raleigh with a B.S. in sustainable technology from Appalachian, was one of 10 members of the Mountaineers men’s tennis team volunteering on Sunday.
“This is the first Habitat build for most of us,” Stone shared. “It’s pretty insane to see a house built in just a couple of days. Everyone is just hopping in, finding a niche. I wasn’t too sure about it before I came out here, but everyone is having a good time and I’ll definitely do this again.”
Alexa Dunn, a sophomore from Asheboro majoring in criminal justice with a concentration in international studies, said she returned on Sunday after volunteering Saturday — even though she hadn’t signed up to work the second day.
“I never worked on a house before and thought it would be a good skill to learn,” she said. “This has been an eye-opening experience.”
Gerdy’s welcome speech inspired students, including Mackenzie Millett, a first-year exercise science major from Amelia Island, Florida. “When he said we’re changing the world one step at a time, I loved that,” Millett said. “Here we are, all together, trying to help one family.”
“We’re getting to know the family, working side by side with them,” Millett continued. “Their kids are going to grow up in this home. It’s really great knowing we’re contributing to that. Tom Gerdy said our hands are doing what our hearts are saying — we’re turning what we feel into actual work and action.”
The next workday for the ABAH project took place during the weekend of Sept. 28–29, as part of Appalachian’s Family Weekend activities. Smaller groups of volunteers will continue to work almost every weekend until the home is completed.
“Our goal for the blitz weekend was to have the house dried-in, and we were able to accomplish that,” said Alex Hooker, executive director for Watauga Habitat and adjunct instructor in the university’s Appalachian studies program. “With the house waterproofed, we’re in good shape for the colder weather, when most of the work will be inside. If we have a steady group of volunteers, we will hopefully have the Barker family in their new home by Christmas.”
Fundraising efforts continue, with a need of approximately $25,000 to meet Appalachian’s goal of $60,000 — half the cost of the home, which will be matched by Watauga Habitat. Contributions are needed to purchase materials to finish the interior of the home, install a driveway and complete landscaping.
During Appalachian’s Homecoming Week 2019, ABAH is partnering with Appalachian Educators Club, University Recreation and Appalachian’s Department of Student Engagement and Leadership to host a field day competition for individual students and clubs, fundraising through team sponsorships.
Individuals may contribute or sign up to volunteer on the ABAH website.