CGOs build 'Habitat for Humanity'

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt Mike Kan
  • 95th Aerospace Medicine Squadron
On Aug. 17, a group of 17 Edwards company grade officers spent their morning painting, moving lumber and digging trenches for future foundations, staged at a dirt lot with the promise of housing someday. We weren't civil engineers, and this wasn't a construction site on base. Instead, these CGOs were at a Habitat for Humanity build site in Pacoima, Calif. 

Habitat for Humanity is an ecumenical Christian housing ministry headquartered in Atlanta, Ga. Through donations and volunteer labor, this nonprofit organization has built or renovated more than 250,000 homes for approximately 1 million people in 3,000 communities in 90 countries. The average cost to build a Habitat home in the United States is about $60,000. 

Contrary to popular belief, the homes are not given away for free. They are sold to families lacking adequate housing at no profit and financed with affordable loans. Furthermore, the selected families have to put a certain number of construction man hours, called "sweat equity," into the house before they can move in. That number at the Pacoima site was 500 hours. 

Volunteers work on nearly all stages of the building process -- framing, drywall, installing insulation, roofing and more. The electrical system and plumbing, however, are installed by professionals, and the work is supervised by licensed contractors. 

On this particular day, the team from Edwards worked on three areas. After receiving a tour of the grounds, a safety brief and the tools, one group was broken off to paint a wall, while another group was tasked to sort and move lumber and debris at the build site. The last group was charged with clearing soil from the trenches for the foundations. 

Just about the end of the work day, the trench diggers decided to try to tackle one more mound of earth. Tired, hungry and sweaty, it would be too difficult for two men to tackle the task but there was no way to fit more people into the trench. I thought we were just going to give up on the idea, but you can always count on a group of developmental engineers to come up with a solution. We formed a line of diggers; each one had one or two stabs at the mound and then moved to the back of the line to rest while the next person took his turn. We went through about two dozen cycles and in no time the trench was cleared. 

It was back breaking work. At times I thought we were in World War I. Digging trenches is definitely not as fun as fun as swinging a hammer. On a previous Habitat for Humanity build site, I framed a house and mounted drywall. This time around was slightly less fun and a lot more back aches, but the experience was just as rewarding. Donating money to a charitable cause is important, but I especially like "Habitat-ing for Humanity", a term I coined to refer to volunteering for the organization, because I get the satisfaction that comes with hard work. And I can actually see where my "donation" went. 

I definitely want to return to the build site at some time to see the progress and lend a hand. Habitat for Humanity completes a house somewhere in the world every 24 minutes. This wouldn't be possible without contributions from individuals and corporations as well as sweat equity. 

For more information, visit their Web site at