World Habitat Day: Be a Volunteer

World Habitat Day is a designated day each year that recognizes the basic right of all humanity to adequate shelter and encourages grass roots action toward enduring poverty housing. We are posting a series of blogs written from different perspectives that illustrate the importance of a world where everyone has a decent place to live.

Blog Post by: John Rosenthal, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles Volunteer

I first volunteered for Habitat for Humanity on Saturday, September 15, 2011, just four days after the awful terrorist attacks that brought my hometown of New York City to its knees and killed people I knew personally. Compounding the tragic events of that day was a feeling of paralysis: an inability to do anything positive in a world that felt so ominous. I attempted to help at the World Trade Center site, give blood, translate for Spanish-speaking families looking for lost loved ones—something, anything to raise a fist against the forces of hate. But in that first confused week after 9/11, there were precious few ways an average citizen could lend a hand up.

Then I called Habitat. They were building a house in Connecticut, not far from my father’s home, and they’d be pleased to have an extra pair of hands, no experience necessary.

That was 14 years ago. I’ve since moved west and become a crew leader with Habitat of Greater Los Angeles. Once a week for 14 years, this average citizen has spent his Saturdays building a house so other average citizens can escape the cycle of poverty. I used to keep count of how many homes I worked on, but once it got past 100, the total became less important than the sum of its parts.

That’s because those parts are the hard-working people who are now homeowners. The parents whose daughter struggled in school because their one-room apartment had no place for her to do homework. The mother who kept a tight leash on her teenage son for fear of losing him to the gangs that plagued the neighborhood where they were renting. The family whose apartment burned down two weeks before their Habitat home was completed, leaving them with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

Working alongside these and other partner families is always a special treat, because I get to see how they plan to turn their Habitat houses into homes. Nothing gives me more pleasure than asking them how high they’d like the bathroom mirror mounted. It reminds me that they are about to know the security of owning the roof above their heads.

My original motivation for joining Habitat was to somehow make the world a slightly better place. Little did I know I’d also be making it a more secure one.