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Builders for a Day

Local Realtors and mortgage lenders volunteer to work on Habitat for Humanity project in Fairfax.

Before last week, Helen Schubert and Barbara Rohde had never operated a saw at any point in their lives. But by early afternoon on Wednesday, April 18, both women were enthusiastically using various electric saws to slice and dice planks of wood for construction of a condominium complex in Fairfax.

“I’d never done anything like this before, but I think it was pretty new for everybody,” said Schubert, marketing director for Dominion Title, Corp. in Great Falls. “Luckily we had a great group of people following us around, showing us what to do and helping us out.”

In late 2006, Dominion Title made a charitable donation to Habitat for Humanity, and in response, Habitat for Humanity offered the Great Falls-based settlement company the opportunity to do 100 hours of community service helping to build a Habitat for Humanity condominium project. Since there is typically a wait list to participate in Habitat for Humanity projects, Schubert immediately set about recruiting volunteers.

“I thought it would be a good thing to do, especially since we’re all involved in real estate, so I sent out an e-mail inviting all of our past clients, real estate agents and loan officers to volunteer for a day,” said Schubert.

Schubert was able to entice 13 other people to participate in the project and, at 8:30 a.m. on April 18, the 14 volunteers showed up at the site, which is located near Westbrook Mills Lane in Fairfax.

“It was pretty funny because we had no clue what we were getting into today,” said Rohde, a resident of Great Falls and a Realtor with Long and Foster in Great Falls. “All we knew is that there was no dry-wall up.”

Schubert said that since this particular Fairfax condominium project is slightly behind schedule, they ended up helping out with the various sawing and carpentry work that needed to be completed.

“We were supposed to be doing dry-wall, but since it’s not up yet, we’ve been cutting wood, doing some of the framing in the kitchens, blocking the cabinets and sealing the ducts.

HABITAT FOR HUMANITY is a non-profit, ecumenical Christian housing ministry that uses donated materials and volunteer labor to build and renovate homes and apartments for qualified low-income families. The houses are sold to the families at no profit and are financed with affordable loans. In addition, the future residents help to construct their Habitat for Humanity dwelling, and their monthly mortgage payments are used to construct more Habitat for Humanity homes and apartments for other families.

Rohde said that she did not hesitate to volunteer after receiving Schubert’s e-mail about the project.

“I think it’s a good thing to do, and I’ve always liked Habitat for Humanity,” said Rohde. “I would absolutely volunteer again – it’s been fun. The day has been beautiful, we’ve been doing carpentry, moving wood and doing lots of physical labor. It’s been a good workout.”

Jim Preuss, a mortgage lender with CTX Mortgage in Reston, was also glad that he opted to participate.

“I think it’s really important to do something for the community,” said Preuss. “We all have a tendency to get caught up in our work and we focus on so much on it, that we forget about other important things in life.”

Like Schubert and Rohde, Preuss said he had very little experience with construction and carpentry, and thus enjoyed learning some new skills on Wednesday.

“I really enjoyed learning how to put things together,” said Preuss. “And the best part about it is that I’m not doing it for me, so that makes it feel even better.”

Lorraine Arora, a Realtor with Long and Foster in Reston, said she had always wanted to participate in a charitable project such as Habitat for Humanity, so she was also thrilled when she received Schubert’s e-mail.

“I always wanted to help and do this kind of thing,” said Arora. “I learned so much and I had a lot of fun.”

When completed, the structure will be a 12-unit condominium complex that will be home to 12 pre-designated families. Gene Harshbarger, who has been a member of the Habitat for Humanity Board of Directors for five years, said that he was impressed with his Wednesday group of volunteers.

“They’ve been good — extremely good,” he said.