By Martha Nodar
Only women work at this construction site. They bring their daughters to help. Their husbands bring lunch.
“Our husbands come at lunchtime to bring us food and serve it, but they are not allowed to do anything else,” said Dunwoody resident and Marist School parent Nancy Jackson.
Jackson, like the other women in the Marist School Women Build, an all-female volunteer campus ministry that works in partnership with an all-female Atlanta’s Habitat for Humanity construction team, did not know anything about construction when she first joined the committee.
There are approximately 300 female volunteers from the Marist community who participate: Parents, students, faculty and staff. Each contributes $200 to the ministry.
“Ours is an evolving network that keeps growing,” Jackson said.
Fellow Marist parent and Brookhaven resident Trish Coughlin is the committee’s co-chair. She said the ministry, preparing to build its 10th home this spring, evolved eight years ago to help empower women with limited resources.
“About 80 percent of the homes we build are for single mothers,” Coughlin said. “The rest are for married women with children.”
Coughlin said it takes seven Saturdays to complete one home. A different group of 40 to 50 volunteers rotates each of those Saturdays. They gather at the Marist parking lot early in the morning and carpool to the outskirts of downtown Atlanta, where they meet with a house manager from Habitat and her crew. During inclement weather, they work inside.
Christine Nort is one of the four pioneer Marist women who helped launched the campus ministry. “I was called to a meeting, which I thought was about selling goodies for fundraising,” Nort recalls. “I was shocked when I heard what they had in mind. I wanted to run out the door, but the other women kept saying we could do it. We worried about the money, but our sponsors and individual donations have made it possible. My husband was flabbergasted. I would have never thought I could do anything related to construction.”
Nort also said she was impressed with Habitat: “Habitat is a fantastic program. They have passion, compassion, and know what they are doing.”
Marci Bozeman, director of sponsorship and volunteer development for Atlanta Habitat said the organization receives approximately 2,000 applications a year and from those, they build between 50 and 60 homes a year. She said qualifying for the program is a complex procedure where future potential homeowners are required to participate in the construction of their own homes and to learn about maintaining them.
Bozeman refers to the Marist volunteers as a “sea of hard-working women with a warm spirit.”
“The Marist Women Build is one of the most unique groups in the nation,” Bozeman said. “It is the first high school to have this program in partnership with Habitat. We are immensely grateful. They are committed, organized and have a clear understanding of their mission. I cannot speak highly enough.”
Patricia Jackson was the very first homeowner recipient of the ministry’s efforts.
“My home not only met the building standards eight years ago, it surpassed them,” Jackson emphasized. “My house rests on a solid foundation, not only literally, but spiritually. It has been an honor to connect with a group of dedicated women who wanted to make sure my family had a decent place to live. This means the world to me.”
In a male-dominated field, Marist women have found their niche: Help other women rebuild their lives.
“Camaraderie draws us in,” Nort said.
Once the home is completed and inspected, it is blessed by one of the Marist’s priests in a closing ceremony.
For more information or to make a donation, visit www.marist.com\womenbuild.