Building Homes to Build a Community

Flathead residents participate in Habitat for Humanity Women Build Week

By Clare Menzel
From left: Tracy Roberts, Katy Branston, Ashley Goyer and Jessica Downing set down a board during a Habitat for Humanity Women Build Day at a house along Short Pine Drive in Kalispell on July 17, 2015. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

By the end of the day, the house had nearly doubled in height. The volunteer construction crew, mostly women, stood outside, admiring their work.

Most arrived at the build site that morning with little to no construction experience, but by 3 p.m. they had erected the second story of a structure that will soon house an eight-person family.

The half-built home on Short Pine Drive is the first of five Habitat for Humanity developments in Kalispell, and two weeks ago the empty lot was occupied only by a concrete slab. Over the week of July 13, which coincided with Flathead Valley Habitat for Humanity’s Women Build Week, volunteer laborers raised the two-story building’s walls.

“It was a record day,” said Steve Tartagelino, the valley’s Habitat construction supervisor, of the group’s progress last Saturday, July 18. “I hope women keep coming out to build.”

That’s the goal of Women Build Week, a national Habitat for Humanity program that empowers women by teaching them to be effective volunteers in the fight to lift families out of poverty.

Women Build is an “effort to challenge and inspire women,” said Katy Branston, the Flathead Habitat volunteer coordinator.

“In my mind, there are no blue or pink jobs in construction,” said Tartagelino. “Women – people – are just as able to do any job here.”

Back when he was in college, Tartagelino started his own contracting company, which eventually employed 18 men, and has built many a mansion around the valley. The Habitat houses are less extravagant, and with so many inexperienced volunteers, the work he does nowadays takes a little longer, “but I prefer working with you,” he told the crew.

Branston estimates that each house takes 6,000 hours over a 10-12 month span and 800 volunteers to complete. The Flathead Valley’s Habitat for Humanity program has been around for 25 years, and they have constructed 44 homes.

“Habitat is really a community effort,” said Branston.

And the more women who get involved, the stronger the community is. Thirty women volunteered during Women Build Week, 10 of which were newcomers.

“We typically see the gender ratio skewed towards men,” said Branston, “But I definitely think we’ll see some continued volunteers out of this event. By lunch [each day], the women are already saying that they’re really excited and how fun this is.”

As the volunteers gathered outside the house at the end of the day, Branston asked the first-timers what they had learned.

“That I want to come back,” said one woman. “And how to use a nail gun.”

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