Most of us have a few experiences each day that make us laugh or grin for a short period of time. If we are lucky, we may cross paths with something that makes us grin for a day or two. If we are truly blessed, somewhere on our path we are able to be part of something that will make us grin for the rest of our lives. I need to share such an event with you, with the hope that you would consider a similar project in your community.
I am a building contractor from Lynchburg, Virginia. I have been volunteering with Greater Lynchburg Habitat For Humanity since our affiliate started in the late 1980s. In the past 18 plus years, I have tried to give more to Habitat than I have received, but it is something I have not been able to accomplish. I have always said that if you look around, there is some magic at every Habitat build. It's that magic that makes your heart grow and helps you understand what is truly important. Just when I thought the feeling couldn't get any better the bar was raised again.
The story began when I ran into a woman I know who has a mentally challenged son. She talked about how much he liked construction so I asked her to bring her son out to work with me at a Habitat site. As I tried to go to sleep that night, I realized what had to happen. Our local affiliate had to build an entire house with people who have mental and physical "disAbilities".
The next day I contacted some of the staff at our local Habitat affiliate. They were excited about the idea and so we began planning for "The Special Build: Unlimited Possibilities." We gathered area agencies that provided services for mentally and physically challenged people and pitched the idea to them. Everyone jumped in with both feet and/or wheels.
The Build far surpassed our expectations. The excitement and sense of satisfaction the volunteers showed were powerful. We set up worktables with a wooden platform underneath to easily welcome wheelchairs. People with limited mobility nailed parts and pieces for the house together at the tables. We provided small air-driven palm nailers so people with limited arm or hand motor skills could drive nails with the best of them. The people with more mobility framed like pros.
The build was set up as a buddy or mentor system. Our Special Builders were partnered with someone to help when needed. The fallout from this aspect of the build might have been the most exciting part. Some of the buddies or mentors had never gotten a chance to be up close and personal with people who have what I refer to as "formal" challenges. "Formal" disAbilities or challenges are ones that have medical sounding names and usually contain many syllables. We all have disAbilities but most of us are able to hide or disguise our challenges.
At most Habitat home dedications there are some tears shed. After working side by side with families who have worked very hard to build and buy their homes, you can't help but get emotional as you see their dream become a reality. When the Special Build Home was dedicated, there were more tears than usual. The magnitude of what had occurred added a magical blessing to our mission. One young girl in a wheelchair told a TV reporter "this proves we can do anything we want to do".
The blessings didn't end with the build. During the Special Build I noticed a man who had very good carpentry skills. He was a man with mental retardation in his mid 50s. His father was a builder and often took him out on job sites to work. I told him I wanted to hire him. Transportation and company issues were going to limit him to one day of work a week. The morning he was supposed to start, I began to have second thoughts. I was thinking I had bitten off more than I could chew. I was going to have to do some serious juggling every week to make it work. When he was dropped off, his driver gave me one of the best blessings I have ever received. She said he told her that morning that he was so excited he couldn't sleep. He continued to say this was the best day of his life. Suddenly the juggling seemed like a very small issue.
I have shared this story for two reasons. First, I hope that just one person might read my words, realize the magnitude of what took place and consider organizing a Special Build in their community. I assure you that you will receive much more than you give. The second reason is to remind you to keep your eyes, ears and hearts open, because you never know where your blessings will come from.