Money & Careers

Women Building Homes for Other Women (Volunteer Passion No. 6)

 kelting on roofWomen+Build-014Women at Work: Volunteers constructing a house for Habitat for Humanity (SOURCE: Habitat for Humanity CFC)


This is the sixth in our series on compelling volunteer work. The first, “Free Advice for Free Laborers,” was an insider’s look at how museums choose their volunteers; the second, “JFK’s Peace Corps Call,” focused on volunteering for the Peace Corps at age 50 or older; the third, “Coaching the Sport of Reading,” was WVFC contributor Toni Myers’s paean to coaching reading as a team sport; the fourth, A Tutor’s Tale, quotes a volunteer who relishes the chance to help a child discover the transporting pleasure that reading can provide. The fifth, “Highlights” Tour Guide at the Met,” is the tale of a guide at one of the greatest museums in the world. And this, Emily Kelting’s story, is about how women (even those who are novices at using power tools) are constructing houses for low-income families.



If you think you’re too old, too frail, or too unskilled to be of any use in building a house, you’re wrong. The oldest female volunteer on site at Habitat Coastal Fairfield County is Regina Miolene, who is 82.


On February 12, 2014, I was on my second day of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. A year later, I was inside a warehouse in Bridgeport, Connecticut, sanding and painting windowsills.

A year ago, it was all about making it to the summit. This year it was about volunteering for “Women Build”—a program of Habitat for Humanity of Coastal Fairfield County—that puts women to work building houses for hard-working low-income women and their families.

If you think you’re too old, too frail, or too unskilled to be of any use in building a house, you’re wrong. Anyone over 18 can work on the build site, and the oldest female volunteer on site at Habitat CFC is Regina Miolene, who is 82. Betty McPherson, now 90, started volunteering for Habitat CFC 30 years ago, when she was 60—the day the Coastal Fairfield County affiliate came into existence—and she has volunteered every week since. While she worked out on the build site for years, now Betty works in the accounting office.

“We find a job for everyone, according to their interests and physical capabilities” says Eileen Bakos, the Manager of Volunteer Services. “Whether it is on the building site, in the administrative offices, or working in the ReStore—where building materials, appliances, and furniture are donated and sold—every single volunteer makes a vital contribution.

“Even though I had building skills when I signed up for Women Build’s third house eight years ago, I felt intimidated on a construction site,” recalls Bakos. “It seemed such a ‘male’ world.” But once she started teaching other women skills like how to use power tools and how to properly hammer a nail, she felt empowered—as did the women she was teaching. “It truly is amazing how in eight hours women can go from not wanting to step outside their comfort zone to going home feeling such a sense of accomplishment.”

Eileen’s mantra is “Women build smarter, not harder.” She explains that what women may lack in physical strength, they more than make up for in their quick mastery of the physics of building. In fact, Eileen and the other women on Women Build No. 3 finished the entire house—from the concrete foundation to finished kitchen cabinets—in 29 Saturdays.

kellting women with hyster Women+Build-007

While neither men nor women do roofing, electrical, or plumbing work (these jobs require licensed professionals), women do every other job on site that a man does—whether it is putting up siding or driving a backhoe.

Eileen explains, “Men are welcome to participate in Women Build Days. As long as they know who is in charge.”

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  • Nancy Capelle March 27, 2015 at 8:42 pm

    Emily – thank you for writing such a beautiful piece capturing the experience of participating in the lives of others in the ultimate way. Your piece clearly reflects that when we seek out opportunities to connect with others and help those need, we are truly living. This is what it is all about. You are an inspiration and very special person.

  • Emily Kelting March 18, 2015 at 3:38 pm

    Thanks Emmanuel and Roz for your comments!

  • Roz Warren March 18, 2015 at 10:20 am

    What an amazing story! Thanks for sharing this experience, Emily.

  • Emily Kelting March 18, 2015 at 8:33 am

    Thanks, Gloria, for your kind words. My contribution was pretty small, but every little bit helps. Habitat is a great organization!

  • Emmanuel M. Minja March 18, 2015 at 4:55 am

    Hi all the women on work, I am so pleased with your hard working and keep it up. Let others follow your effort and inspiration.

  • Gloria Major-Brown March 17, 2015 at 3:47 pm

    I am so proud of Emily and all the other women building a house for Habitat, a favorite of mine!!