Back in February, when I put together my life list, I added number 86, "build a house with Habitat for Humanity" with a bit of reticence. It's not that I had a problem with Habitat -- I mean, seriously, how can you possibly have a problem with an organization whose mission it is "to eliminate poverty housing and homelessness from the world and to make decent shelter a matter of conscience and action" -- particularly when the families they house actually help build the home they'll eventually own? No, quite obviously, I've been a fan of Habitat from the very beginning. I've always thought it would be an honour to contribute to them in any way.
My concern had far more to do with whether I wanted to saddle such an outstanding organization with my decidedly sub-par skills. I mean honestly, and I say this without any sort of false self-deprecation whatsoever, I can't even paint walls. Marcus and I have painted walls in our house at least 4 times so far this year, and every time, Marcus has had to go over the "work" I've done, in a desperate attempt to fix my pathetic painting attempts. I shudder to think what I might be like with a power tool. It seemed almost cruel to inflict my ineptitude on Habitat, but still -- the thought of being able to help, even in some small way, was really intoxicating. The truth was, I just wanted to be a part of the good work they do. So I added number 86 to my list.
Soon after I made the list, I had lunch with my friend and former boss John, who has always been a real mentor to me. "I saw that you had Habitat for Humanity on your list," he said. "You know, I'm pretty involved with them."
"Really?" I said excitedly. "Do you think you could get me on a build crew?"
"Well, I wasn't thinking that," John responded slowly. It appeared that my reputation had preceded me.
"I was thinking," he continued, "that they could probably use a photographer to capture their home dedications -- you know, when they hand the keys over to the families. Do you think that might be something you'd be interested in doing?"
Wow. Okay, paint, I'm not good at. But photograph a dedication? That I could do.
So, a few email exchanges later and I was in touch with Houston Habitat, booked to photograph the dedication and celebration of the home of the Abu family. The event was held this past weekend, and I was unreasonably excited to attend.
When I arrived, I was immediately given a tour of the house. It was awesome: a 4-bedroom, 2-bath home, filled with award-winning eco-friendly amenities, including recycled materials, low VOC paints and even solar and heating panels.
After the tour, the family showed up. The Abus were a lovely young family, with two beautiful little boys, as well as newborn twins (who weren't at the ceremony):
Soon, the ceremony began. Doug Garrison, the Board Chair of Houston Habitat, opened the event, mentioning the beautiful fall weather. "It's Houston at its finest, some might say," he said smiling. "But I think events like this are always Houston at its finest: when we all get together to help each other get a bit farther."
After various dignitaries and sponsors said a few words, it was time for the dedication. It involved everyone in attendance, giving a blessing to the house:
Doug: We dedicate this house
PEOPLE: as the home of this family.
Doug: May this labour of love built by our hands
PEOPLE: keep this family safe and secure.
Doug: May it be a safe refuge
PEOPLE: for all who enter its doors, throughout the generations.
Doug: May it be a gathering place
PEOPLE: for learning, growing, loving.
Doug: May it be a place of joy and love.
PEOPLE: May it be a place of peace.
Afterwards, Algenita Scott Davis, the Executive Director of Houston Habitat, stood to present the Abu family with a gift. It turns out that Habitat for Humanity is a faith-based Christian organization (how did I not know this before?), and so she turned to Mr. Abu, and presented him with a brand new copy of the family's holy book, the Qur'an:
Thank heavens, I managed to regain my composure, just in time to finally cut the ribbon:
I wish I could find the words to tell you how honoured I was to not only witness this day, but be allowed to capture it with my camera. I spoke with many of the staff of Habitat, people who were clearly passionate about the work they do, and they were so incredibly warm and welcoming. I mentioned to them that I would be happy to take photographs of future dedications, or even work crews or really, whatever they needed, to help them get the word out about the incredibly good they do in our community. And I have to tell you, I felt a little thrill of excitement when they eagerly accepted my offer, letting me know that any help getting their mission publicized would be appreciated (it turns out -- and I didn't know this before I made my life list -- not all Habitat volunteers build homes, but are needed to help with office administration and working with special projects, as well). So while I'm certainly not opposed to helping build (and in fact, if I do end up photographing a work site in the future, I'll quite happily pick up a hammer -- God help them), I really love the idea that I can actually use something I'm skilled at to help this great organization. And I can't wait to do it again.
Anyway, thanks to my friend John and everyone at Habitat for making Saturday just such a wonderful day for me. And here's wishing the Abu family a very happy life in their brand new home.
Images: Photographed with my Nikon D300, 70-200mm lens