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Women pick up hammers, drills to finish Habitat house in Milton

Even though the women's crew couldn’t work on the house for weeks becasue of COVID, they each drove by to check on it.

MILTON – Some Sussex County women are strapping on their tool belts and donning their safety hats and safety googles to help an area family become first-time homeowners. 

The women, who are part of a Habitat for Humanity’s Women’s Build crew, are working on a 1,232-square-foot house with three bedrooms and 1-1/2 bathrooms. They began in March but the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to stop in mid-April and they couldn’t return until June 1.

Not only was there a more than a month-long stoppage, but a decrease in the number of volunteers working, said Courtney Tull, the project’s volunteer service manager. 

“Our first two or three build days we were fortunate enough to have 15 or 20 volunteers which was awesome, all local ladies, working towards building this house,” she said. “Then, we had to shut down obviously for coronavirus and we couldn’t have any volunteers on site. And now that we’re allowed to have volunteers on site again, we’re only allowed to have up to eight volunteers working at a time on outdoor projects.”

On their Wednesday, Friday and Saturday work days, Tull says, there are consistently now four to five volunteers.

“It’s really cool to see people from Milton or near Milton, like Lewes come together to help build affordable housing,” she said. “The ladies have built relationships with each other and with Habitat, and they learned all of these skills by coming to the classes that we held and now they are putting that into action on site.

“It’s just a cool dynamic between them.”

Habitat for Humanity Women's Build in Milton
Progress on this Habitat for Humanity house in Milton was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nancy Haefeli, the house leader in charge of the crew, says COVID not only affected the number of women participating, but also the concept of only women building the house.

“Once COVID hit, we still didn’t have the roof on, not all of the walls were up and sealed up. They had to bring a contractor in to put on the roof, put the windows in, just so it would be pretty much sealed,” she said. “We didn’t get to do those kinds of things that we would normally do, which is kind of a bummer but you need to preserve the structure of the house, so it had to be done.”

Even though the crew couldn’t work on the house, they individually would drive by to check on it.

“I would just see how it was coming up, see it under roof,” she said. “You couldn’t see what was going on inside, so you just looked at the outside.”

With the women back on the job, Haefeli says the house’s exterior is basically done except for landscaping and building the backyard shed. The crews now has moved inside where they are on installing luan plywood subfloor for the laminate flooring. 

“Unfortunately, we were told last week the cabinetry and the vinyl planking aren’t going to be here for about a month, so I don’t know what we’re going to be able to do after we get all the luan done,” Haefeli said.

The homeowner, who is required to work a certain number of hours on her home, came on Saturday and wanted to paint.

Habitat for Humanity Women's Build in Milton
Inspecting their progress on the subflooring at the Habitat for Humanity Women’s Build in Milton are, from left, Nancy Haefeli, Lynn Welden, Judy McCallum and Terry Hide.

“She got in the laundry room on Saturday,” Haefeli said. “It was her first-time painting and she did a good job.”

Terry High, another member of the Milton crew, is a veteran of Habitat builds having worked seven years on different building projects. This is her fourth Women’s Build. She has worked on houses in Ellendale, Seaford, Selbyville, Georgetown and Milford.

She said this has been the most successful Women’s Build because women have shown up.

“Seriously, that is it,” High said. “We would have a lot of women on Day One (of other projects), and unfortunately most of them were working and they couldn’t come back. This one we’ve had consistent people coming. We’re getting to be a tight-knit group and that keeps you coming out.”

Lynn Welden totally agrees with High, saying it’s a blast working with her teammates.

“We have a lot of fun and laughs together, and support each other,” Weldon said. “It’s fun to be around other people especially during COVID.”

Not getting to work during the shutdown was really hard on Welden for several reasons.

“I worried about the house, about the family that was moving in because of all the delays,” she said. “I just missed the purpose of coming out here.”

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