“You can call me Tara.” Tarashai trills to our crew leader Bill.
She doesn’t notice me staring at her - eyes wide underneath my hat. When Tarashai and I met in college I asked her if I can call her “Tara” and with plenty of attitude she had told me, “Absolutely not.” That was our first conversation. Even with the brutal rebuff I liked her right away because of her spunk. Her sensitivity about her moniker had obviously changed. Luckily our relationship through the years had not. We weathered our college theatre department together and the hard move from the South to LA. We were not always in close communication, but we always picked up where we left off when we got together again.
So what better way to catch up with her than to make her do hard labor with me for the day! Tarashai was game as soon as I said Habitat for Humanity. Not only did “Tara” volunteer extensively for Habitat throughout college but she also did her work-study in the theatre shop building sets. She knows her way around power tools. Which is why she eyed the nail gun we were handed later that day with suspicion before she passed it on to me. I soon learned that nail guns have a killer kick back.
Our crew boss Bill seemed highly amused with us – when we first got there we slathered ourselves from head to toe in every kind of protective clothing they offered. We both had experience around construction projects and were familiar with the horror stories of people putting staples through their hands with automatic staple guns. Looking like HAZMAT workers we tackled our project - adding inches to doorframes.
We must have been a sight. I somehow managed to strike my head on every piece of metal scaffolding around the home while Tarashai danced and sang Tina Turner hits as she used the circular saw to cut boards. Soon we got into a rhythm and the day sped along at a breakneck pace.
When we got to the second floor I stared out at the rotting house next door. Plastic tarps covered holes in the roof, the frame sagged with age, and planks partially covered broken windows. A rusty shopping cart with a tarp was acting as temporary shelter for the grimy dogs outside. I began to wonder about the family who would move into this house. Would they turn their eyes toward that house regularly or would they bury their thoughts in the tasks of the day? Would they try to help their neighbor living in conditions that shouldn’t exist anywhere little less the richest state in the richest country in the world?
“Bill, when does this family get to move in?”
“The house was supposed to be done by Christmas.”
“That would be a nice Christmas present,” I said.
“Yeah well that’s not going to happen. There's too much work to do.”
I reflected on the early morning sign in and the empty volunteer sheets. I wondered where this family would spend Christmas. They had already marked their names on the uncovered 2x4’s in the bedrooms. Maybe if I just worked harder…
At the end of the day we could all see the progress on the house. They invited Tarashai and I back to volunteer another day and threw us Habitat t-shirts as bribes.
Tarashai gave me a hug when we got to our cars. “Thanks for inviting me. I had fun. We should come back and do this again.”
Habitat for Humanity started in the United States in 1976 and now works to eliminate poverty housing around the world. Get a group of friends together today and go volunteer or go by yourself and make new friends. Go to www.habitat.org for more information on Habitat projects in your area.