Habitat for Humanity volunteer Julie Gilbertson gave a little cheer as she tapped a nail into the siding of a Hough neighborhood home.
“I feel so accomplished when I hammer a nail,” Gilbertson said with a grin.
Lucky for her, and the dozen women at this Habitat renovation project, there are plenty more nails to be driven.
Evergreen Habitat for Humanity recognized the organization’s International Women Build Week on Saturday, offering women volunteers a chance to work on a property off Lincoln Avenue. Organizers say it’s an opportunity to help women flex their muscles in an industry dominated by men, while giving back to the community.
“We’re trying to encourage and help women gain skills,” said Courtney Patterson, construction manager for Evergreen Habitat for Humanity. “It’s creating an environment that makes it a little more welcoming.”
Habitat for Humanity estimates 6,000 volunteers in 235 communities across the globe will work on a Women Build site. Women Build Week ends Sunday.
Women are significantly underrepresented in the construction industry, making up only 10 percent of the sector in 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. At the same time, women also face higher barriers to accessing affordable housing. A 2016 report by the International Center for Research on Women found that 83 percent of households enrolled in the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program are led by women.
Leanna Fabian, development coordinator for Evergreen Habitat for Humanity, said programs like Women Build help give volunteers the tools to advocate on behalf of women.
“Not only is this an empowering thing for women to come learn and build with us on site, but we also recognize that women, particularly single mothers, are one of the most vulnerable populations that could be affected by substandard housing,” Fabian said.
Gilbertson and Lynne Divittorio both sit on the local Habitat for Humanity’s Women Build committee, helping coordinate volunteer projects for women.
“We want women to feel empowered,” Gilbertson said. “We’re half the population. Oftentimes women might not always connect with these projects.”
Divittorio has taken her volunteer work overseas, traveling to Haiti to participate in the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project program championed by the former president with Habitat for Humanity.
“You do have a lot to offer, and that’s what women need to know,” she said.
Men by no means are excluded from Women Build programs, and there was one man on site: the future homeowner, Ting Mangshang.
Habitat for Humanity requires that future homeowners put in a certain number of “sweat equity” hours, either volunteering on the build site or participating in other Habitat programs. Mangshang has been volunteering on several build sites in the Portland area. He currently lives in a small apartment with his wife and three young children.
“When the kids grow up, we don’t have a lot of room for them,” Mangshang said.
Mangshang helped Gilbertson and Divittorio fit a piece of siding around an outlet on the home’s exterior, shaving off trace amounts of the material with a box cutter so the slat fit just so. Mangshang said he’s looking forward to enjoying the modern features of his soon-to-be home.
“I feel like they’re building a new house,” Mangshang said. “I’m very happy to have it.”