On a blustery March morning, a handful of guys are shooting nail guns and hammering away at a framework of studs, ignoring the dark gray wall of weather headed their way.
Like at most other construction sites in the valley right now, there are deep piles of pushed-aside snow, mud and pieces of plastic draped over work surfaces.
These workers are all volunteers, and they’re applying their skills to a new Habitat for Humanity home. A crew, typically of about a half dozen or so, show up week in, week out, rain or shine, all year to build homes for young families who would otherwise be unable to afford decent housing in the Flathead. They are literally putting a roof over their heads … and doors, walls and windows so that, in this instance, a mother and her three children will have a safe, warm place to return to at the end of the day — a place they’ll call home.
Build site supervisor Steve Tartaglino recalls one recent workday when the Montana weather was being particularly wicked and he was grousing to Habitat’s outreach coordinator Nici Zuffelato.
“I read a sign that said ‘Whining costs 10 cents per line,’ and I figured I was chalking up quite a bill.” Tartaglino said. “Then all I had to do was think about these volunteers out in that same weather and what an incredible resource they all are, what giant hearts they have, and that cold, nasty day got a little warmer.”
Tartaglino has been the build site supervisor for Habitat for Humanity of Flathead Valley for six years.
On this morning he asks his crew to take a break and proceeds to tell them loud and clear that the work they do, their dedication, does not go by unnoticed.
“With all the crazy stuff that’s going on these day everywhere you turn, what you’re doing here is the coolest thing in the world,” he says, “and the fact that you keep coming back over and over makes my job a lot easier.”
“You say thanks every day we’re here,” Pete Metzmaker, a retired middle school science teacher who’s volunteered for Habitat for about two years, reminds him. “The homeowners thank us everyday too.”
Jim, a semi-retired Arctic geologist, has worked with Habitat for Humanity in Alaska and elsewhere. He says this operation is the safest he’s ever worked on.
“I appreciate the absolute focus on safety, from hard hats to safety glasses.”
Chuckles erupt when Tartaglino says he figured he was driving them all crazy with his relentless attention to safety on the job.
Between working at the construction site and volunteering at Habitat’s ReStore, Jim puts in five days a week for Habitat. Located at 2610 U.S. 93 S. in Kalispell, The ReStore accepts donations of and re-sells household goods, furniture, appliances and building materials.
When asked how long another fellow on the job has been building Habitat homes, he answers about six years, adding “Steve would probably say too long,” drawing more laughter. His father was a carpenter for 20 years, he explains, and when he was young he always enjoyed tagging along with him to jobs.
The volunteers agree that it’s being able to go home at the end of every day feeling good about what you had accomplished that makes it all worthwhile.
“It’s empowering for the homeowners too,” Tartaglino says. “They start out thinking they don’t know anything about building and think they won’t be much help, and they end up doing everything.”
And building confidence, stability, dignity and pride. Each family puts in 500 hours of sweat equity on their homes. Some even work on other Habitat homes after theirs is completed.
“They realize that volunteerism is what got them where they are,” Tartaglino says.
Once the home is finished the family pays the mortgage back to Habitat for Humanity to continue the cycle of providing decent housing to community members.
Meeting the families, seeing the kids picking out where their rooms will go and working together to help them build their new home are more reasons the crew keeps coming back, wanting to be here doing this work all year long, wanting others to know about Habitat’s mission in the community.
The dark sky has scooted over the job site and is overtaking the last weak film of sunshine. A chill wind pushes in from the south, flapping the corners of plastic. It starts to rain.
Time is of the essence. The crew gets back to work.