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04/06/2017 12:00 AM

Swing a Hammer, Sell a Stove, or Sweep the Dance Floor

Volunteers for Raise the Roof spent a Saturday in May 2012 on the Madison Green, helping grame three homes for Habitat for Humanity. Photo by Jessica Smith

What does it take to build a home? This is a question that most don't think about, but every year, hundreds of volunteers across the Connecticut shoreline donate their time, effort, and funds to help build affordable housing for those in need.

Volunteers not only get to help someone they'll actually get a chance to know, they'll have a chance to pick up skills along the way, from installing doors and windows to simply learning the right way to hammer in a nail or two.

"There is something to be said about painting a room alongside the family that will be moving into a home, or working a fundraiser and hearing the testimonial of a family whose life has been changed because they were given the opportunity to not only hope for a better future, but build one," said Sarah Bird, executive director of Middlesex Habitat for Humanity of Connecticut, an organization that links volunteers of all abilities with homeowners who need help.

"I think most people know what Habitat does, but not how we do it. Our homeowners pay back a zero-interest mortgage that is affordable to them. Habitat doesn't give away houses," Bird said. "Volunteers gain a better perspective or our work, and why there is a need for affordable housing in all communities, towns, and cities."

Middlesex Habitat for Humanity has built 15 houses in its 20 years of incorporation, according to Bird. While two were "houses in a box" sent to Alabama after Hurricane Katrina, the rest were built in Middletown, Middlefield, East Hampton, and Portland, with ongoing and future projects lined up in Middletown, Portland, Westbrook, and East Haddam.

Who Can Help?

Bird also stressed "you don't have to pick up a hammer to build a Habitat home." In addition to fundraising and working on different committees, people can also volunteer time at the Habitat ReStore.

"The ReStore is like Pier One, Home Depot, and Goodwill combined," said Bird. "It's 13,000 square feet of used and new furniture, building supplies, wood, doors and windows, and appliances. It is open to the public and mainly staffed by volunteers."

For those who do wish to participate in a build, organizations such as Sleeping Giant Build centered along the Quinnipiac River and Madison-based Raise the Roof provide opportunities to sign up to volunteer on-site. Both organizations are community auxiliaries of Habitat for Humanity of Greater New Haven.

'Seeing Everyone Come Together'

Arnie Cary, co-chair of Sleeping Giant Build, values the opportunity to both learn new skills and put in an honest day's work in the service of a good cause with a team. He's been involved with Habitat for Humanity for more than 10 years.

"You learn something different about people when you're working together," said Cary. "The biggest eye-opening thing is always working with the owner and you learn their story. A lot of us take homeownership for granted, but it is a really big deal. It can make such a difference to a family to have a safe, well-constructed, affordable home."

Don Epperson, former board member and past president of Raise the Roof (formally Madison Cares) got involved with the organization when looking for something meaningful to do after retiring.

"The return is getting to know the families," said Epperson, "but it starts with participating in a build, seeing everyone come together.

Epperson also noted that there are two things that Raise the Roof plans annually to create off-site opportunities to get involved: the Build on the Green and the Gala of Stars. During the Build on the Green, there are family activities in which volunteers under 16 can be involved, and the community comes together to build exterior walls that are then kept in storage until needed for the next project. The 2017 Build on the Green is scheduled for Saturday, May 13 on the Branford Green.

Joan and Fillmore McPherson danced at the Gala of Stars 2016, which raised more than the $60,000 needed to fund Raise the Roof's next project commitment.

"Volunteerism is a bedrock of the shoreline," said Fillmore. "It's a charity that is still local. You can look at it and know it's doing good things and see the people helped, and know it's not just throwing money at the problem."

"It was a lot of work—we're not dancers," said Joan. "It was a lot of fun to get dressed up, and it was a very positive experience to see everyone be willing to give. It brings people together in improving the lives of others."

With many ways, both on site and off, to be part of a community that focuses on giving to others, those who are interested in participating can reach out to community partners Raise the Roof and Sleeping Giant Build through and, or contact Habitat for Humanity of Greater New Haven or Middlesex through and

Build on the Green 2017

Raise the Roof holds it 2017 Build on the Green 2017 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, May 13 on the Branford Green. For more information, email or visit

Corporate sponsors are a key part of Habitat for Humanity builds especialy when part of the sponsorship involves on-site crews, such as this group from Guilford Savings Bank. Photo courtesy of Guilford Savings Bank
Hard work never looked so good: Fillmore and Joan McPherson are 2016's Gala of the Stars champions, raising funds for Raise the Roof's homebuilding efforts. Photo courtesy of the Raise the Roof