Built by women

A new Habitat home will be the work of a female crew

Women's Build members, from left, Diva McPherson, Veronica Hofheinz, Mary Kilgour and Susanna Catalano pose at the recently cleared site Celebration Oaks development. The all-female volunteer group will construct a home for a local family.

CHRISTINA STUART/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Thursday, January 29, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 28, 2004 at 11:34 p.m.


How to help

  • What: Spots are available for women who want to help with a Habitat for Humanity house, including raising $44,000 to cover the cost of this single-family dwelling in Celebration Oaks in southeast Gainesville.

  • When: Introductory meeting is 7 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 3. Committees are forming for fund-raising, public relations, instruction, logistics and more.

  • Where: University of Florida College of Building Construction, Rinker Hall, Room 238; south of Century Tower off Newell Drive.

  • More information: Call Diva McPherson, 376-8064 after 5 p.m., or send e-mail to mcpherson24@gru.net; call Nikita Patalinghug, 222-1103; call Vivian Filer, 376-9956; or call Veronica Hofheinz, 284-7496.

  • Nikita Patalinghug came to the United States from the Philippines in 1984. She was 22.
    She learned English, worked as a chemist, then became a real estate agent. Today, she's a state-certified residential contractor.
    "Impatience can be a virtue," she says, describing how in the "old days" she would call a plumber, get tired of waiting for him to arrive and end up fixing her toilet herself. "You learn."
    She went on to teach herself construction skills, never letting her diminutive size stop her from doing what she wanted.
    "You do a little here and a little there, and then you say, 'I'm gonna build a room,' " she says. "I've built contraptions for hauling sheathing. 'I love my studs' - put quotes around that."
    The petite, fiery Patalinghug will help other women learn construction skills when they sign up for the Women's Build project, a Habitat for Humanity home that will be built entirely by women.
    "We will raise the money, and we will do the building," says Gladys Lane, who helped found the Alachua Habitat chapter with her husband, Warren Lane, in 1986.
    "The men are permitted to bring lunches and donate money. We were joking that if they want to work on site, we might charge them a fee and make them wear skirts," Lane says, chuckling.
    On Tuesday, the group will hold an organizational meeting at 7 p.m. on the University of Florida campus, where they'll be setting up committees to cover fund-raising, public relations, volunteer coordination and instruction.
    Susanna Catalano, 24, and Veronica Hofheinz, 23, both second-year graduate students in the UF College of Building Construction, will be teaching construction skills along with Patalinghug.
    They anticipate bringing along their friends in the UF student chapter of the National Association of Women in Construction.
    In addition, Lane adds, they need practical people good at organization.
    "We need someone to organize logistics, such as making sure there's a cell phone, first aid, and a nurse on the work site, and toilet tissue in the Porta-Potty," Lane says.
    Attorney Diva McPherson, 59, says she's excited about learning construction skills. And for her, working on the project means she's doing something to ensure there is safe, affordable housing in Gainesville - something she believes in strongly.
    Mary Kilgour, 63, a retired foreign service officer, will serve as liaison with the Habitat board. Vivian Filer, 65, has already signed on to be in charge of "food and fun."
    "It sounded like such a challenge and such a great thing, I thought, 'Wow! This would just be awesome,' " says Filer. "Here I am, 65, and I would actually have a hand in building a house in one way or another."
    Filer's niece, Lakendra Filer, heads one of the 60 families slated to get a new home in Celebration Oaks, which is located off SE 21st Avenue near Hawthorne Road.
    This isn't the first time Habitat has sponsored a Women's Build project. In July 1996, a Women's Build home was completed at Hawthorne Road and SE 46th Terrace. Gainesville's Brenda Pickens was active on that project.
    "We built a house! It was a wonderful experience for everybody involved," says Pickens. "We had women from the ages of probably 16 to 90 working on it. We had a wonderful young architecture student who was our supervisor."
    Habitat families get no-interest loans on their homes, essentially purchasing their homes for what it cost in materials, explains Carrie Reppert, assistant director of Alachua Habitat for Humanity.
    Families must agree to put in 200 hours of "sweat equity" on Habitat projects to apply for a home, then work hand in hand with volunteers to build their own.
    "As they repay the loan, those funds are used to build more Habitat homes. It's a nice kind of recycling," says Reppert. "You give a gift once that continues to give on a long-term basis as it's recycled into the building of more homes."
    Reppert, 32, recently was the site coordinator for Habitat's 61st home. She says it was probably one of the most rewarding experiences of her life.
    "I learned an incredible amount about how everything goes together," she says. "Being there with the homeowner and seeing her excitement grow as the house got closer and closer to completion made the whole experience real and worthwhile."
    The family who will eventually own the Women's Build house has not yet been selected.
    "We hope to identify the family as soon as we get far enough ahead," says Lane.
    The plan is to finalize the scheduling of the Women's Build home by the end of May, pour the slab in June, and begin construction the last week of August. Then it will take three to six months to complete.
    "So much depends on the weather and volunteers and the money coming in," explains Lane. "It's really too soon to tell."
    Groundbreaking for Celebration Oaks occurred Jan. 22; permits are already pulled for four homes. The first three will be built with the help of the Builders Association of North Central Florida, which will showcase the homes in the Parade of Homes, April 13-18, says Reppert.
    It will cost $44,000 for the Women's Build project. Some of that will come in the form of in-kind donations of shingles, lumber, flooring, cabinets or appliances - "whatever anyone wants to donate," says Lane. The rest will come through fund-raising.
  • If you can't make Tuesday's meeting, there will be others. Call to get on the mailing list. And if your schedule or physical limitations prevent you from taking part in the project, your dollars would be a sure sign of support.
    Send a check to Habitat for Humanity, earmarked on the memo line for the Women's Build project, to 2317 SW 13th St., Gainesville FL 32608.
    Julie Garrett can be reached at (352) 374-5049, or e-mail to garretj@gvillesun.com.
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