03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Troops Have Landed, to Help us Build

I spent a recent weekend helping with a Habitat For Humanity Blitz Build in New Bern, N.C. Blitz Building is conventional construction at an accelerated pace. We gather as many volunteers as possible and spend a couple of days working like maniacs to accomplish as much as possible on the construction of one or more homes.

There are many misconceptions about Habitat For Humanity, so let me further explain the concept before I move on. Volunteers work side by side with the families who will be buying the homes. The hours worked by the family are converted into their down payment. When they have worked enough hours for their down payment, Habitat sells them the home at cost and provides a zero interest mortgage. The homeowners then make mortgage payments back to Habitat. The mortgage payments are then used to build more homes. It works!

The concept is simple: people listen to their hearts tell their hands what to do. It doesn't get any more basic than that. Volunteers all over the world give of themselves to minimize labor costs so Habitat Homes can remain affordable for low income families. There is an interesting transformation that takes place when people build a house because their hearts tell them to do it. The volunteers often show up thinking that they will be helping someone and the reality is that they gain much more than they give. We call it "feeling the feeling." It happens when a volunteer realizes that they are no longer building a house. As they work side by side with and get to know the home buyer, the house suddenly becomes a home. Many volunteers also realize that they will forever be part of that family.

I have been volunteering with Habitat For Humanity for over 20 years. Many of the homes I have helped build have been done in Blitz style. I have experienced many emotional and magical moments in those 20 years. In New Bern, N.C. I once again found myself in the middle of a powerful event.

The crowd that showed up on Saturday morning in New Bern was huge. We were building two homes and over 400 people waited ready to help on a cold October morning. It was a sign of a very healthy community that knows what is important. As I looked out at the crowd, chills went up and down my body. The chills I felt weren't from the cold breeze blowing off the river in New Bern that morning. The chills were because as I looked over the crowd I saw the faces of about 100 Marines and sailors who had come out to help. These young men and women had already given so much to their country but were poised to give in a different way. On this morning, their weapon of choice was a hammer. They were there so they could help a good family buy a safe, decent, affordable home. At that moment I felt proud, privileged, and blessed to be there with them. They know better than most what giving and looking after each other truly means. I thank them for what they do every day defending our country. I also thank them for what they did that cold Saturday in October in New Bern, N.C. Thanks to the Marines, the sailors and all of the other volunteers homes were built, relationships were built and the world moved one step on.