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I have for years wanted to be involved in a Habitat for Humanity (H4H) project.  And finally, I have checked this item from the bucket list.

This finally happened because of my friend Sherry Bruckner’s efforts to find a good Community Service project for our U-Group (a group that meets monthly to focus on deep listening).  She determined that there were multiple projects and we selected the July 9th workday at 1909 6th Avenue in Alexandria, Minnesota.  Our project would be working on completing the garage roof.  This was the scene early in the day.


We had 5 build supervisors, gentlemen in their later years who volunteered for H4H, some for only a few years to date and some who’d been volunteering for decades.  And we had 5 UGroup members with Sherry being the youngster on the team, Dan and I middle agers and Lee and Reed being our elders.  We also had another volunteer join our team, Michael from 3M.

We started the day with a safety talk consisting of mainly of a “work safe, drink plenty of fluids, watch out for each other” kind of briefing.  Then we had a local minister provide a short “sermon”.  I was interested as he began his talk with a definition of the word Church which simply means “gathering”.

Latin ecclesia, from Greek ekklesia had an original meaning of “assembly, congregation, council”, literally “convocation”. ~ Ecclesia (Church)

So he explained that we people were a church as we were gathered together for God.  He joked about how people referring to the building as the church, and not the people, were not really correct (though if you look it up in Webster’s…)  I liked that he recognized the gift of offering our services in the help of another as that is the message of H4H that rings true to me.  But, especially as I’m not so keen on the organized religion aspect of H4H, I was offended that he took time during his talk to demean another religion (as he got into the topic of which day is the sabbath and when we should worship) but I guess I should expect that in today’s “Christianity”; largely the reason I am not a big organized religion supporter any longer.  We spent about 10-15 minutes listening to his ideas and then we broke, imbibed our first drinks of water, and then got to work.

I will say that at this point I didn’t realize how poorly organized the work day would be but perhaps that is the nature of working with a differing group of people so frequently.  And perhaps the goal of H4H is not simply building the structure but building the “church” by facilitating relationship building at the job site.  The lack of efficiency disturbed me as an engineer but as a human, especially one experiencing a very hot and humid day, I enjoyed the many opportunities for chatting that arose as we stood around (in the shade whenever possible) waiting for our next instruction or work opportunity.

We started the day putting up the trusses for the garage roof.  This was a fascinating process that I hadn’t really dealt with and I loved learning about the techniques.  We would pick up each 24’ truss and let the point drop (as gravity would naturally have it do).  Then we’d push the one end of the truss up over the top of the garage wall and walk the truss into the garage and push up the other end over the opposite wall.  The truss would dangle there, upside down, until it was ready for installation at which point Michael would use the Y-bar (a long 2×4 with a shorter piece nailed into it to create a crook) for grabbing the truss point to push it up into proper place, with its apex at the top.  As you can imagine, as we filled the space with trusses, our space available for the push up and into place diminished.  So when we got to the last of the trusses, we put up the last 4 or so without nailing them into place.  This way, we could stage the trusses against each other leaving room for the last ones to be put up and in place and flipped.  Once we had them point up and stacked, we could space them properly for nailing into place.  We measured spacing as we went to assure consistency at 24” but the trusses were so large, there was lots of wiggle room along the length.

Lee and Sherry DSCF0019put in the long truss screws that helped hold them onto the sidewalls.  This was difficult work, only made harder by the watching of multiple people.

Then we went to the roof sheathing to hold things together.  As we added the sheets of oriented strand board (OSB), we measured the trusses carefully to assure they were at 24” from the base to the top of the truss.  While this took extra time, it assured a more square building by nailing everything in as perfectly as we could.  I learned the importance of measuring and checking along the way as, at day’s end, we had a ½” difference on the east roof sheathing that would end up requiring a re-do (by a subsequent group thankfully) to bring the building into square.  What we didn’t realize was that the work on the east sheathing consisted of simply putting up sheathing without all the double-check measuring.  It made for quicker work at the time but would, in the end, require much more work to remedy.

By the end of the day, it was nice to see a roofed building.  DSCF0060We also learned a bit about building codes when we were given the job of nail checking.  Apparently, there is a requirement for a 6” on edge and 8” on center nail spacing for the sheathing.  Sherry, Lee, and I spent the last hours of the day working on adding nails where needed to assure we met code.  While it wasn’t hard work, the presence of the scaffolding made reaching much of the west wall cumbersome…  Though it was nice to be in shade!  Here’s a shot of how the garage looked at the end of our work day.

And here’s some shots of us at the end of our day.

I feel good having done this work.  I suffered for it later in the evening when I had a horrible leg cramp that Dan had to help massage out of me (and that had Mom thinking we were up to naughty business in her guest room).  But I’d gladly do it again.  And hopefully I’ll get another chance before too long.