Homes For Heroes

Having already come through 10 days of strenuous physical labor in helping my seller pack and move, my body screamed for mercy at 6am on Saturday morning – this was the day that I was scheduled for voluntary service to Habitat For Humanity on their Homes For Heroes program in San Juan Capistrano, CA.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, but as I dragged my aching body through the shower, I thought of all the reasons why it was not!  Top of the list was the high cost of gas – I mean San Juan is a L-O-N-G drive from Signal Hill by today’s standards.

Still,  I dressed in my black ‘Women’s Council of Realtors’ T shirt and pants, put on my heavy socks and good walking shoes, picked up the cooler and work gloves that my husband had prepared for me and I was off!

As I pulled into the construction site, all my objections evaporated, as I beamed from ear to ear and gave the thumbs up to the volunteers assembled – all of us ready to put in a days work for our Heroes!

Oh, yes,  there were some strong brawny guys there and obviously a good few who had construction experience, but this work force was made up largely,  by women, among them a young slip of a girl (perhaps 18 years of age), who looked like she’d be better suited to watching surfers at the beach. NOT!

We were given the safety and pep talk and divided into groups: ladders and high work, heavy tools and wood construction. I ended up on wood construction, although I had a pang of regret at not being able to wield those big power tools, which would have been my preference.

My first job was to help unload the lumber and help to take it to the various work stations.  Then we moved the roof trusses – 10 per unit, into position.

The first floor of the two units was aleady constructed (each unit consisted of a three-bedroom and a four bedroom home, with one common wall and double garage – each home to have two bathrooms) and we headed up the stairs to our ‘site’.  One crew passed the lumber (1 x 4’s, 2 x 4’s and 4 x 4’s) to a crew upstairs, another crew took the lumber to the area to be built and we were given the plan: we would pre-build a wall frame for the outside wall of bedroom 4.

The positioning of the walls had been drawn out on the ‘floor’ and the lumber was laid out by us and marked by the construction foreman.  Equipped with hammers and different size nails, we set to work, hammering two nails into each stud, where it joined the frame lumber. As the foreman cut each piece, we hammered it into place, finally having one wall built – then we all hoisted the wall frame into place and hammered it into the floor.

As we erected each wall frame, another team came up behind and hammered on the particle board to create the solid wall to the frame and yet another team followed them, adding the metal strapping to give strength the each wall.

We were warned to drink a lot of water, but when the 10 minute break was called, everyone ran for shade, portable toilets and drinking water – by lunch time we were out of water and more supplies had to be brought in.

By 11.30 am and the lunch call,  the sun was beating down on us and we welcomes the 45 minute break – now all dirty and sweaty, but each and everyone of us was happy with our efforts. The teamwork had fostered new friends and newfound joy!

As I looked over at Ashleigh (the 18 year-old slip of a girl), I was amazed!  This young lady had more construction experience that the rest of us put together!  She knew how to mark up the lumber,  where every piece went and worked without drawing breath, with unstinting energy and strength!  As we munched on the sandwishes that each of us had brought, a vehicle drew up and two boys (about 12 and 10 years of age) from a local church. They placed a large cooler of iced drinks down and walked from volunteer to volunteer with a large container of packaged potato chips – there was no charge for these and all they wanted in return was the recyclable bottles from the day.

Where to people come up with such selfless gestures, I asked myself?

The break was over all too soon and we went back to work, this time not quite as fast as we had been at the start of the day.  I noticed workers drinking more and more water as the sun squeezed the fluid from our bodies, but by now I could see the formation of a home on the second level.

There is nothing more soul destroying than building a wall and then being told to tear it all apart, but the foreman noticed that each of these homes, while supposed to have two bathrooms, each contained only one bath/shower and two toilets. In his opinion,  this was not up to standard and after cutting down the frame we rebuilt the wall frames to afford one bath/shower and one shower per home.

The amazing thing about Homes For Heroes, is that for their discount in costs,  they are right there, helping to build their own home!  Two very nice couples, working alongside us, watching as each room took shape.

By the end of the day,  we had completed the upstairs portion of four homes – the halt was called, because we had run out of lumber. In fact we had done more than anticipated! Funny, but my body, although tired, was not hurting anymore and as I drove my truck off the construction site, I did so with a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment. It’s quite amazing what unskilled labor can achieve under the right supervision and with the right spirit and motivation.

This is indeed a very rewarding way to put back into our communities and an excellent way to thank our faceless Heroes, who serve us in ways some of us don’t even know:

         Workforce heroes include but are not limited to teachers, firefighters, public safety officers, health care workers, military personnel, and other every day heroes who provide quality services to the public every day. If you aren’t sure if you qualify, please contact Homes for Heroes at 763-412-1272

If you would like to assist with or contribute to Homes for Heroes, you can go to their web site:

You won’t be disappointed!


Althea Garner
The House Of Homes Online


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2 CommentsLeave a comment


    In my eagerness to share the information above, I published the wrong contact information – my sincere apologies to Homes For Heroes, Michigan!

    The correct contact information for anyone wishing to donate their time to Homes For Heroes and Foundations for Family in Orange County, California, is:
    (714) 434-6200

    Althea Garner
    House Of Homes Online

  2. Althea
    I received your voice mail apology. Not to worry about the mistake. (Our corporate headquarters is in Minnesota, not Michigan). The Homes For Heroes organization name is trademarked so I am surprised to hear of a California organization using it. Our program to give substantial real estate related services discounts to our community heroes began in 2001! We have been serving our community heroes across the nation ever since.
    Explore the benefits of using our program in your real estate career. It is rewarding, community minded and business building!
    Ruth Johnson
    Homes For Heroes, Minnesota

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