Unity Build, Week 4

For many, Unity Build 2017 was the closing of a circle and a time of reconnecting.

For Tim Shipkin, the NOAHH Site Supervisor leading the build, Unity Build brought to a close his time with Habitat in the same way that it started.

“I was part of Unity Build 2015 as an AmeriCorps,” Tim said. “I had just moved to New Orleans. I was working for Habitat probably two months, and then it was a very special experience for me. It was my first house, start to finish, and everyone was nice. I can remember it was a very positive experience. It made me want to continue doing this longer. It was one of those things that you just don’t want to end. It made me excited about this job. In 2015, that was my first house, and Unity Build 2017 is going to be my last house. It’s the start of my Habitat career and the end of my Habitat career, so when I found out this Saturday was gonna be my last day, it was like ‘oh.’ Ending my Habitat career kinda where it started. I’m happy to finish out a house on my last day. It’s always nice. I’m leaving a house completely done and coming full circle. Some of the people are the same. It’s been fun to see them again. It’s the same kind of deal, though, building a house. It’s been really cool. I haven’t seen some of them in two years. It’s been a blast.”

For Patrice Mimitte, NOAHH homeowner and Trinity Episcopal Children’s Ministries and Business Administrator, it was a return to the Habitat build site two years after her Habitat home was completed in a similar build–the 2015 Habitat AmeriCorps Build-A-Thon.

“[At Build-A-Thon] Watching the walls go up, I stood on the other side and just watched and took a bunch of pictures,” Patrice said. “It was amazing. It was fast. Looking at all the people who was out supporting it, it was great, and that’s why I’m back, just to give back. It feels good to see someone else go through this process.”

Being back on the build site brought back memories and connected her with Nicole.

“I love it,” Patrice said. “It brings back memories of when my house was being built. I am learning flooring, which was something I did not get to do at my house, and that was something I was interested in. I’m putting floors in today. It feels good to give back. Even though this is a day out with my job here today, with me going through this process before, it feels good to watch somebody else go through it and become a homeowner. I remember what it felt like. It’s amazing. It all works out in the end. It’s a blessing, and I’m happy for Nicole.”

For John Haspel of Temple Sinai, it was about getting back to his roots.

“From my faith, we basically believe in helping others,” said John. “I feel very fortunate that I’m in that position to be able to do so. It’s called ‘tikkun olam,’ repairing the world. The temple and my parents have taught me to give back whenever you’re able to give back, so we do some volunteer work. It’s kinda in my DNA.”

For the congregants of St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church, it’s a chance to reconnect with NOAHH, whose offices used to be at St. Charles Baptist.

“The legacy remains strong,” said Rev. Elizabeth Lott. “St. Charles Baptist is proud to play a small part in Habitat’s story of emerging as the organization it is now in New Orleans, and to reconnect is just a full circle moment.”

In the final week of Unity Build 2017, new connections were also being made.

“For a congregation that could not pull off a build like this on their own, it’s been a wonderful act of solidarity to connect with other people of faith and participate in this build together,” said Rev. Lott. “We had ten or twelve people over the course of the month who were here. It’s been such a source of energy and hope for those of our congregation who’ve been able to participate.”

“Meeting new people from all over’s been good,” said Patrice. “Everybody’s helping everybody, moving from one room to the next, checking out other jobs. It’s been fun.”

“All the congregations have been really good with sending out volunteers every day, and it’s just been great to see the different congregations and different backgrounds,” said Tim. “It’s great seeing everyone come together and form relationships that they didn’t have before.”

Others connected with Nicole, who was out on the site every day helping to build her own home.

“It’s nice to know that people who you built the house for realize they have some sweat equity in it,” said John. “It’s a community build. I’m very familiar with community building. So it’s nice when you’ve got the individuals who benefit from it putting some time into it. I’m sure they appreciate the people helping out–strangers. What better faith can you have? It’s a show of good human nature.”

“Nicole is great,” said Tim. “She’s just a positive ball of energy every day. She’s very quiet but she can tell she’s incredibly kind and she’s great with volunteers. She makes everyone feel welcome.”

“It’s been a great experince for me,” said Nicole. “As far as having everyone come out and all, the excitement. Some of them are even more excited than I am.”

And Nicole connected with Patrice, and they shared a bond over their experiences in the Habitat program and accelerated build homeowners.

“It’s been good because she knows the whole steps and everything,” Nicole said. “She gets to work with me. She worked with other people as well on their homes.”

Fittingly, the original Unity Build came from these kinds of connections. The participants in the 2015 Unity Build inspired others to join this year.

“I’m fortunate to go to lunch regularly with some of the clergy in town,” said Rev. Lott, “and I got to hear Henry Hudson [formerly of Trinity Episcopal] and Antoine Barriere [of Household of Faith] talking about their work together. Clearly that project was much more than the build. It was a friendship between those two pastors, and it was contagious. The energy that existed between the two of them. It’s important for our congregations to lean on each other and grow together. And one of the themes today over and over again is when times seem divided and neighbors seem divided, it’s so important for us to come together and remember again how much we hold in common.”

As well as a chance to connect, the build was also a chance to learn.

“I think I can do the siding when the next hurricane hits,” said Nicole. “If a few pieces come off, I can put it up myself. Learning how to use the power tools has been pretty nice. It’s been a great learning experience.”

“I touch up a whole lot of paint inside and outside of my Habitat house,” said Patrice. “Working with gardens. I keep up with that a lot. Just everything. I’m excited about the flooring, because I didn’t get to do my own flooring at my house. That’s something I was always curious about. It’s exciting working with other people and learning new things. Learning how do to things around your house.”

And at the end of the build, the home was completed and everyone came together to celebrate Nicole’s achievement–and their new connections.

“It’s such an honor to be part of this family’s story, and I think it’s a reminder that none of us is alone,” said Rev. Lott. “We carry each other, and that was my big takeaway from today. Watching all these people who were strangers a month ago surround Nicole with love is just really inspiring and encouraging.”

“It’s amazing,” said Patrice. “There’s nothing like having your own space. I have to say that’s the first thing, when I pull up in my driveway, I think, ‘It’s mine.’ It belongs to me.”