By JOE POTTER
Special to Habitat for Humanity of East & Central Pasco
LACOOCHEE, FLORIDA - The clanging of hammers against nails and the ripping of saws through lumber were music to the ears of two families for whom Habitat for Humanity of East & Central Pasco is building its first two homes in Lacoochee.
Making the event even more exciting was the fact that women with manicured hands were wielding the pink handled hammers and women wearing pink protective goggles were operating the power equipment.
Construction of the new homes for the Ramona Atkins and Soporro Burns families began Saturday, April 30, the first day of the 2011 National Women Build Week. This is the third National Women Build Week in which the local Habitat affiliate has participated.
Some members of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheerleading squad were on hand Saturday to help out. They included Milly Figuereo and Jeni Summers. "We're excited to be out here," Summers said. She was motivated to participate to help "give back to the community," Figuereo said.
Lowe's Home Improvement sponsors Women Build Week.
It is not too late to sign up as a volunteer for Women Build as it runs through Sunday, May 8, said Crystal Paoloemilio, Habitat's director of volunteers and recycling. Work remaining to be done includes painting the interior of the homes and helping to install siding on the exterior. Women Build Week is an excellent opportunity for ladies who are not professional carpenters or handywomen to come out and have a good time and make new friends, Paoloemilio continued. For information on how to participate in Women Build Week, please call the Habitat office at (352) 567-1444, go to the website www.habitatpasco.org or visit the construction site at 39295 Coit Road. Take US 301 north to CR 575, turn right at Bower Road and then take the second left at Coit Road.
Almost 100 women were on hand April 30, with the majority of them - 53 - being members of Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative's WRECing CREW.
"It is very rewarding to help out on a project like this," said Kris Walzak of WREC. She has been hammering nails, using a table saw, and framing window headers and bottoms. Walzak added that she is comfortable working with power tools.
Eleven women from Florida Hospital Zephyrhills participated on May 2. They were Margaret White, Evelyn Williams, Susan Lord, Kelley Sasser, Gwen Alonzo, Karen Preston, Caroline Whitis, Carolyn Sentelik, Verona Scott, Chantel Dukes and Amy Keller.
Sandi Morgan, who is retired, was also participating in Women Build Week. She and seven other members - some men and some women - have been working at various Habitat sites over the past six weekends as part of their observance of Lent. She enjoys helping others, Morgan said.
Several dignitaries were on hand during Saturday's opening ceremonies including U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent, R-Brooksville, Pasco County Commissioner Ted Schrader, Karen Marler of the Lacoochee-Trilby-Trilacoochee (LTI) Community Action Group and David Lambert of Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative.
"How can you not do this because it's the right thing to do," Nugent asked the crowd of approximately 100 gathered at Saturday's opening. Nugent was referring to Habitat's plans to build eight homes on the former site of a school that had been on the site from 1927 to 1971. The Pasco County School District donated the property to the Pasco County Commissioners. The commissioners, in turn, donated the property to Habitat.
Schrader, in whose district the construction site is located, said he was excited about Habitat's expansion into Lacoochee. He thanked Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative (WREC) for its buy-in to the Lacoochee area and added that the county commissioners "have invested in this project." Schrader also said he hopes the construction of these two Habitat homes will spur more development in the area. John J. Finnerty III, president and chief executive officer of the local Habitat affiliate, said Habitat owns 12 to 14 lots in Lacoochee.
Marler called the property upon which the Habitat homes were being constructed "treasured ground." "I went to school at the Lacoochee school that used to be here," Marler continued.
Lambert said WREC was excited about the opportunity to be involved in the Women Build Week project. Personnel from WREC were busy the first several days installing security lights around the construction site.
The houses being built on Coit Road are numbers 90 and 91 for the local Habitat affiliate.
Ramona Atkins took some time off from her work as a sales technician at the Dade City Walmart to work on her home. She is living in a crowded apartment in Dade City until she is able to move into her new home in Lacoochee.
Atkins, who described herself as a single mother "most of her life," has a grown son, Darrell, who rents a place in Dade City. Atkins' two other children - Summer and Christopher - will live in the family's new home on Coit Road.
Atkins said she came across Habitat's telephone number when she was looking for a larger place to rent and decided to give Habitat a call. Her initial contact was with Stephanie Black, Habitat's director of development and public relations. "A few months later I found I had been accepted (for a Habitat home). It was the happiest moment of my life," Atkins said.
"My daughter's ecstatic because she is finally going to get her own bedroom," Atkins said, adding, "I think Habitat is a good organization. Like we say each morning, it's not a hand out - it's a hand-up. I feel very blessed to have this opportunity."
"I am just so overwhelmed. It's unbelievable," said Soporro Burns, who will be living in house 91. "I'm excited," she continued. Burns' church, St. John Missionary Baptist in Dade City, encouraged her to apply for assistance in obtaining a Habitat home. Burns, who owns and operates Soporro's Cleaning Service, has contributed 400 hours of sweat equity as a down payment for her three-bedroom, two-bath home. Her children, Reggie Adams, Kionna Myers and Danyja Burns, will share the home with her. She feels happy the family will have a home and figures her children will be able to continue living there long after she is gone, Burns said.
Evelyn Williams of Florida Hospital Zephyrhills worked on her friend Soporro Burns' home during Women Build Week. Williams, who has a bachelor's degree in nursing from Florida A&M University, said she has known Burns for several years. Williams is director of cardiac/pulmonary rehabilitation at Florida Hospital. She was born and raised in Lacoochee. This was the first Women's Build Week in which she has participated.
Habitat sells homes to qualifying families through no-interest mortgages and uses proceeds from those mortgages to raise funds for the construction of additional Habitat homes. In this way, Habitat provides a hand-up, not a handout.
WREC and Florida Hospital are among several sponsors of Women Build in Lacoochee. Other sponsors include the St. Petersburg Times, First National Bank of Pasco, Microtel Inns & Suites in Zephyrhills, Walmart, Tampa Electric Company, Quilts on Plum Lane in Dade City, Publix Super Markets, Cornerstone Solutions Group and Pasco County Community Development.
Habitat expressed special thanks to the Lacoochee-Trilby-Trilacoochee (LTI) Community Action Group for its visioning project for the area and the Greater Trilby Community Association for security.
Food sponsors for Women Build, which concludes Sunday, May 8, are Domino's Pizza, IHOP Dade City, McDonald's, The Smokehouse, Francesco's, Olga's Donuts, Flaco's Café Zephyrhills, Taco Bell, George & Gladys's BBQ, Little Caesar's Pizza, Carlo's Catering, Checker's Dade City and Zephyrhills Water.
For more information about Habitat for Humanity of East & Central Pasco, please call (352) 567-1444 or visit www.habitatpasco.org.