Exploring the company we keep at UCI and beyond

Roller derby girls. God Without Religion. Harry Potter enthusiasts (fanatics?). These are a small sampling of the groups and organizations that have formed at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) and around Orange County. Members share a devotion to their cause and a desire to pursue it in collaboration with others, which are the subjects we examine in this blog.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Building Homes for Habitat for Humanity Proves to Enrich the Lives of Volunteers

By Alexa Bertola

It is 7:43 A.M. on a Saturday morning in late January. The sun is already shining at the San Juan Capistrano build site. Volunteers are walking through the wide opening of the chain-link fence covered with green mesh found at most construction sites. They are heading toward the 15x15 foot check-in area shaded with white canopies that cannot be missed. There is close to 20 volunteers as 8:15 A.M. approaches. Around 10:00 A.M. the numbers have increased even more and the sound of drill guns and hammers are heard all about. These volunteers are from around the community and are all joined to help build affordable homes off Calle Rolando Drive in the city of San Juan Capistrano for lower income families.

Anteaters’ Habitat for Humanity is one of many organizations who participate in building homes for Orange County Habitat for Humanity every Saturday from 8:00 A.M. to 3:30 P.M. The San Juan Capistrano site is only one location out of the numerous sites which contribute to the grand total of 142 homes completed in Orange County since 1988. Here is a document listing all of the homes completed from 1988 to 2009 (http://www.habitatoc.org/Document.Doc?id=152).

Habitat for Humanity is a non-profit program that builds houses for lower income people who would not otherwise be able to purchase a home. A Habitat for Humanity home is an affordable home with closing costs, a long term mortgage and a 1% down payment which is sold to qualified families. One of the most distinguishing aspects of Habitat for Humanity is that volunteers donate their time to help in the home construction, working alongside the home’s future residents, who are required to contribute 250 hours of labor (per adult in the household) toward the building of the house. People are eligible in part based on an annual gross income between $40,000 - $75,000, and astoundingly, some 17.4% of residents residing in Orange County fit that criterion.

The volunteers from local churches, businesses, and college campuses, put much hard work and dedication into the building and fundraising of supplies for a Habitat for Humanity home. Some of the sponsors for the land and building of the homes include The San Juan Capistrano Community Redevelopment Agency, Hands of Christ Lutheran Partnership, and St. Edward the Confessor Catholic Church. There are numerous architect sponsors such as Change a Life Foundation, and also, design team services such as Adams-Streeter Engineering. At the Habitat for Humanity ReStores located in Santa Ana and Garden Grove, people are able to donate new or gently used home supplies which in turn are sold at the store for profit. The profit is used toward supplies needed for the Habitat homes. This store has greatly contributed to the building of Habitat for Humanity homes. Money donations are also accepted via internet, mail and phone. At the San Juan Capistrano Site alone, more than 1,500 donors whose gifts were less than $50,000 helped with the building of 5 homes off Calle Rolando Drive.

The Anteaters’ Habitat for Humanity is one of the college campus organizations that have also helped donate not only supplies and money, but time and effort. This is student-run organization at University of California Irvine consisting of about 30 students. The organization partners with Orange County Habitat for Humanity and aids in the building of homes in cities around Orange County. Fullerton and West Minister are two of the many job sites Anteaters’ Habitat for Humanity has assisted in their 5 years of existence. Currently, they are working on the third phase of construction in San Juan Capistrano, which has a total of 18 homes in progress.

Erin Arana, the Co-President and Financial Vice President of Anteaters’ Habitat for Humanity has been involved with the organization for three years now. Aside from her misleading appearance of a petite figure and pretty brown eyes with mascara, she is an active member of the on-site construction taking place in San Juan Capistrano. I was able to sit down and interview her about her efforts on behalf of Habitat for Humanity. She tells me of one memorable task she was assigned on one particular Saturday.

“My most memorable experience is when I was assigned the task of nailing boards to the side of an 11 foot wall [of a home off Calle Rolando]. In order to do this I had to go up and down a scaffold to get nails and boards. During this task, I challenged myself. I challenged myself not just as a volunteer, but by personally trying to overcome my fear of heights. One particular day, my friends J.P., Jason, and Michelle taunted me by rocking the scaffolding while we were all on it. I held myself together but in the end, I still have my fear of heights. It was still a lot of fun attempting to conquer my fear. It was also fun using the nail gun because I normally would never have the chance to.”

Anteaters’ Habitat for Humanity volunteers are not required to have any previous construction experience prior to their enrollment with the program. People seeking to be a part of the organization simply show up to a general meeting held Mondays at 5:00 P.M. at the University of California Irvine campus, and fill out a membership form. The membership form asks questions such as what the member is expecting to get out of volunteering for Habitat for Humanity and also, what the member is most looking forward to. After signing up for the organization, the member must take the imitative to sign up for a build day via e-mail. The only things required for build day is comfortable clothing that you won't mind getting dirty, sunscreen, lunch or money for lunch, insurance card and insurance information. The student website notes that a hat may be of great use on a sunny day too!

Aside from volunteering at the job sites, Anteaters’ Habitat for Humanity raises money through fundraising. Fundraisers are held at different restaurants in the Orange County area such as California Pizza Kitchen or Gina’s Pizza. These fundraisers allow the organization to earn money for the purchase of nails, screws, and also, wood. The supplies are used for the building of the Habitat homes. Social events such as camping at the beach are also paid for with the fundraiser proceeds. One unique fundraiser in particular, earned quite a substantial amount of money. The fundraiser was held at Shark Club in Costa Mesa, CA. A 10.00 dollar ticket was required to be purchased upon entering, and 5.00 dollars from each ticket was donated to Habitat. On the night it was held, it was 18 years and older night, so there was a large crowd which resulted in many proceeds.


Habitat for Humanity volunteers report an enormous amount of satisfaction in working alongside future residents and in completing the homes. Scott Bainbridge has been volunteering for Orange County Habitat for Humanity since 1997 and since then he has helped complete 14 homes. He tells me that he decided to get involved with Habitat because he enjoyed using his hands to build things. His commitment to Habitat for Humanity has earned him the position of a crew leader. Crew leaders have more knowledge of construction than most volunteers. Also, crew leaders are licensed and certified contractors that are paid money to volunteer more than one day a week.

After speaking with him, I was able to see how passionate he truly was when it comes to working for Habitat. He and head crew leader, Jim Thompson, assigned the specific jobs to each of the volunteers and homeowners working that day. On this Saturday, they were working on three homes in particular, and they would dedicate themselves to these three homes only. One of the groups was designated the task of building the plumbing lines for walls of a home, the second group was to fix beam powers (for solar power) of the second home, and the last group was assigned to drill in order to tighten bolts in case of an earthquake. Two of the homes being worked on were next to each other and the third home was directly across the street. The home that was being drilled for tightening bolts, and the other home that was having its beam powers fixed were both completely framed. The house being lined for plumbing was merely a foundation of concrete.

All of the volunteers were giving 100% effort even though the morning was off to a rough start. The sun was shining on the muddy and wet dirt surrounding the concrete foundation and framed houses they were working on that day. The foundation had to be swept by a volunteer because there was no way they could draw lines for plumbing on the concrete full of wet, sloppy mud. One girl assigned to drill bolts ran to her car to get her rainboots to battle the mud she had to walk in, in order to get to the framed home. There was a good ten feet in front of the house for the future drive-way but the drive-way as of right now only consisted of mud. She was smiling when she ran back to the white canopy we were all standing under. Her rainboots were on, her Cal Poly Pomona College jacket was on too, and she was ready to begin the day working beside the other volunteers and homeowners.

I turned my attention to Scott Bainbridge. He was not with any of the three groups working away at their tasks. He was much closer to the canopy, shoveling away at dirt that emerged into the trench separating two plots of land for future homes. He was scooping a light brown goopy mixture into a black bucket. Scott was working away at this task and every once in a while wiping his arm against his forehead or perching himself against the long wooden shovel. Scott then was stopped as a new homeowner was trying to get his attention. She and Scott were now talking on the black pavement that had some nails here and there and sandy-ish texture from the dirt that fills the ground after a long week of rain. I later found out this was a new homeowner that had just moved in two weeks earlier asking Scott about some feature most homeowners are usually unfamiliar with, such as the heater. The lady was small, with short wavy black hair, and beautiful dark olive skin. When she talked to Scott, she was smiling and he was too.

Erin Arana has also noticed the emotions flying through the air at the San Juan Capistrano site. She notes that as move in day approaches the families have smiles on their faces. She can tell that everyone is anxious. Some families help build homes, other than their own, and she remembers one couple expressing their anxiousness to build their own home. She also tells me that through the motions of the future homeowners she can tell how passionate and excited they are to move in. A smile seen on a homeowners face can make a volunteer’s day.


For the first time ever, at the San Juan Capistrano site some of the homes are dedicated to disabled veterans. It is motivational for the volunteers knowing the home goes toward a family in need. Erin explains one couples’ story to me.

“At the San Juan Capistrano site, there is one couple in particular that has an uplifting story. This elder couple in their mid-60’s did not have a stable income or suitable shelter. The woman was out of work and the man, a disabled veteran was unable to get a job. They were living in a tiny one bedroom apartment barely able to make their monthly rent. Somehow Habitat for Humanity of Orange County found this couple and suggested a Habitat for Humanity home. They were qualified and now they are soon to be residents of the San Juan Capistrano site. It is a happy story because now this couple will not only have a nice home but an affordable one. On top of that, I heard the man has found a job.”

Erin Arana is especially happy to be a part of Habitat because at the end of the tiring day of plumbing line walls, drilling for tightening bolts, and fixing beam powers, she has a sense of accomplishment because she is helping someone directly. Anteaters’ Habitat for Humanity allows its members to be a part of humanitarian aid and otherwise enrich themselves with the gift of aiding others. Three years ago however, Erin Arana was not so positive about her ability to contribute to these families. She hadn’t even used a tool in her life and she felt as though she didn’t want to cause damage to someone’s shelter. A few weeks ago Erin told me that she is happy to be a part of building someone’s shelter such as the couple that was struggling to pay rent. She feels a sense of value because she is taking part in laborious work. Furthermore, volunteering with Anteaters’ Habitat for Humanity has given her the confidence to work on a construction site. Volunteering has changed her initial fears around and she can tackle any task assigned.

The residents’ approval of their homes has given Erin confidence as well. She reflects upon one experience with a homeowner. She was fixing a sprinkler system in one of the homeowner’s yards. As she was jack hammering the cement with a few of the other volunteers, the homeowner appeared. She recalls that the tall man with dark hair had been a homeowner for over a year now. The house was located in the middle of Calle Rolando Drive. This was in fact her first direct interaction with a homeowner and it was a memorable one. He stood next to where they were working, offered apples, smiled, and said: “This is the least I can do for all you guys have done for us”. This man’s interaction with the volunteers directly expressing his gratitude was an exception Erin was luckily to be a part of. When she told me of this story, she was beaming with happiness.

Despite her initial motivation to enhance her resume, Erin has contributed much of her time to Habitat for Humanity and it has been a rewarding experience along the way. As posted on the Orange County Habitat for Humanity website, one homeowner says, “Without my Habitat home, I would still be struggling”, said Sylvia. “Because of this home, I was able to go back to school. It's like winning the lottery.” The feedback coming from a 2005 homeowner, such as Sylvia, is what keeps the volunteers motivated each weekend at the job sites. The drilling, hammering, and measuring for 6 and a half hours is all worth it when volunteers are able to hear responses such as this. Furthermore, there is no better reward than knowing you are able to build a beautiful home for someone who is in desperate need of one.

A home is where memories are made and people grow. Anteaters’ Habitat for Humanity Co-Publicity Chair, Larry Lam says: “I describe the word “home” as a place of safety and security where I can return to despite any hardships I may encounter. Habitat absolutely instills this meaning to the families that receive a house by giving the low income families something they have never had before.”

Hours have passed and three volunteers are still drilling the framed house, smiling and laughing among each other. Close to ten volunteers are on their knees using a white pieces of chalk and measuring sticks to mark where the plumbing will soon lay. And two handfuls more of volunteers are using drill guns to fix the beaming of the house for solar power. Faces depicting concentration and determination are seen through the wooden frames. There are crew leaders wearing blue and several other leaders wearing green sprinkled about, watching over the young volunteers that spend their Saturdays enriching the lives of homeowners’ and their own lives as well.

Reporting Notes:
-Half day of observation and picture taking on 2 different occasions at San Juan Capistrano site
-Lengthy interview with Erin Arana, Co-President and Financial Vice President of Anteaters’ Habitat for Humanity
-Interview with Scott Bainbridge, Orange County Habitat for Humanity volunteer
-Interview via E-mail with Larry Lam, Anteaters’ Habitat for Humanity Co-Publicity Chair
-Several articles in Orange County Register about Orange County Habitat for Humanity, Orange County Habitat for Humanity website, Anteaters’ Habitat for Humanity website, Anteaters’ Habitat for Humanity facebook, U.S. Census Bureau statistics
-Documentation containing a list of homes completed from 1988 to 2009 by Habitat for Humanity (http://www.habitatoc.org/Document.Doc?id=152).

Video Footage:
Anteaters' Habitat for Humanity 1st Social of Winter Quarter! (2010)http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vu110y7UTIUSan Juan Capistrano Welcomes 4 New Families!http://www.habitatoc.org/Page.aspx?pid=277

See also Anteaters' Habitat for Humanity for complete interview with Erin Arana.

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