Heels to Hammers

Features / June 25, 2018

Women help families build strength, stability and independence through housing

For the fourth year, women in Hot Springs will be given the opportunity to participate in an industry that is usually male-dominated, and give back to their community.

The Garland County Habitat for Humanity Heels to Hammers event, formerly known as Women’s Build, is set for May 15-19. Over 200 female volunteers will work on two Habitat for Humanity homes alongside a construction crew during this time, after which they will present the homes to two Hot Springs families in need.

Families go through an application process before being chosen to receive a new home. A committee evaluates each family based on their need for housing, their ability to repay the mortgage and their willingness to partner with others.

The families on the receiving end this year were chosen in March.

“They are very eager,” said Cindy Wagstaff, executive director of Garland County Habitat for Humanity. “They have actually started working towards our sweat equity already, but they will be on site during the event and building as much as they can around their work schedule.”

This will be the second year that the volunteers will build two houses instead of just one. This year the two properties are located at the intersection of Garland and School streets.

“Our second year we filled up so quickly with just one house, so last year we were trying to figure out how we could expand it to include more people, and we decided to use a property that we were building two houses on. We made sure that was OK with the construction crew and they could handle 40 women all at one time,” Wagstaff said, laughing. “They were completely up for it, so this year, let’s do the same thing.”

The event can have a maximum of 40 volunteers per day, with a total of 200 volunteers throughout the week.

A new feature added this year, given that the event falls so close to Mother’s Day, is the option to donate or honor a significant woman in the volunteers’ lives.

“We’ll have on-site recognition, an honor board and memory board of those women, so there’s a great way to remember significant women in our lives,” Wagstaff said.

Each day will begin at 8 a.m. and end at noon. Lunch is served every day for the volunteers and coffee and doughnuts will be provided every morning.

“ReMax of Hot Springs Village is sponsoring the doughnuts every morning, so we will have coffee and doughnuts, just like a good construction site does,” Wagstaff said.

Lunch will be donated by Chick-fil-A on Tuesday, LongHorn Steakhouse on Wednesday, ABI Insurance on Thursday, Hotel Hot Springs & Spa on Friday, and WindowMart on Saturday.

WindowMart is this year’s presenting sponsor, and Lowe’s Home Improvement and Hot Springs Village are also sponsors.

In addition to free lunch and breakfast, all volunteers will receive a T-shirt, nail apron, safety goggles, construction pencils and gloves.

Wagstaff noted that even women with absolutely no construction experience are encouraged to volunteer. In fact, that’s what makes it fun, she said.

“Construction is obviously a male-dominated industry and it can be intimidating for a woman to walk on to a construction site full of men, so this is a really fantastic way for women to all come together and it just kind of breaks down the barriers and empowers women, and we have quite a few women that continue on throughout the year,” she said. “Our construction crew truly enjoys this. They get to be the leaders and teach everybody and they really, truly enjoy it.”

Sonya Eisenhour, this year’s event chair, recalled a testimony from a woman who said Habitat for Humanity actually saved her life.

“This lady, we spoke at a luncheon for the women in Hot Springs, a women’s group. After we talked, she asked if she could give a testimony. She said that an older guy had encouraged her to get involved in Habitat for Humanity, and she said, ‘My husband died many years ago and I was in the darkest place ever. I did Habitat for Humanity for five years and it saved my life, because it made things not about me,’” Eisenhour said. “It was really great.”

Eisenhour has been involved with the event since its inception in Garland County. She said, “To me, it was just so empowering to be able to build something and give it to someone, and just to see the whole process and learn about the program. I loved the fact that I was strong enough to participate.”

Once the houses are completed, each volunteer will be invited back to attend the official dedication ceremony for the families.

“There’s so very few events where you get to work side-by-side with the person you’re helping,” said Wagstaff, “and a construction site just kind of eliminates a lot of barriers. Everybody is the same on a construction site. It’s one of those rare opportunities to get to know who you’re helping. They’re just like everyone else, doing their thing.”

Wagstaff added that the committee’s goal this year is to raise $15,000 with plans to grow the event to fully fund a house in the next couple of years.

Lindsey Wells

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June 25, 2018