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Hands-on Construction for People in Need

People have asked me what I do on the weekends. I get my hands dirty in the garden, and with hands-on construction projects. What do you love so much that you give time to it outside of your ordinary work hours? I’d love to hear your story. As for mine …

I volunteer with one of my favorite groups, Solid Rock Carpenters. They are a Habitat for Humanity affiliate and have worked with a number of groups whose missions serve both local Chicago homeless shelters as well as areas in need across the country. To assist a local shelter, the Joshua Center, we built solid wood bed frames to give each resident a private living cubicle. Now the shelter can accommodate higher populations of both men and women.

Appalachian service project crew

Appalachian Service Project Crew

I’ve always loved doing hands-on work to help people in need. When I was 18 years old, my church got involved with the Appalachia Service Project (ASP). Their mission at the time was to renovate homes. We collected and donated tools, housewares, etc., and then traveled to. We weren’t building houses at the time. In 2008, I started volunteering for Solid Rock Carpenters. Over the years, ASP has learned of our group. Solid Rock Carpenters is different because we see a project from start to completion.

First, ASP identifies people who need a home. These folks have either lost their home to a disaster, like fire, flood, or deterioration. Some homes require only minor repairs, but most have suffered significant damage and require special attention. ASP’s slogan is “Warmer. Safer. Dryer.” So we step in and give them just that.

In June, we built wall panels for homes that were sent to Tennessee. Later this year, other volunteers will travel to assemble them in the fall. Currently, we are preparing to build homes for people in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. I create detailed drawings, illustrating the wall panels that help other volunteers understand what they’re building.

SCR volunteers

Volunteers working together

We embrace professional designers and builders so that members of all talent levels can have a meaningful experience and create a quality product. The organization is expanding our process, teaching our process to other groups, so they can increase their reach. We typically begin with a rudimentary layout and break it into manageable components, with detailed walls and 3D illustrations. With this information and the guidance of experienced professionals, even in the hands of a lawyer, librarian, or grade school volunteer, they are able to make it happen.

It’s remarkably gratifying to see the whole process – the prep, working with people to prepare building packages, to see the beehive of activity on a build day. Since I joined Solid Rock Carpenters in 2007, I’ve witnessed an arc of experience. In the early years, we didn’t do any prep work. People would be standing, eagerly waiting to nail something, anything, together. From this, we learned that we needed to prepare plate packages ahead of time. Now on Framing Days, people can jump right in after they’ve had some safety training. It’s been a  matter of refining the process. Suddenly 400 volunteers are building 6 homes a day!

For me, this is an opportunity for hands-on construction, which is something I’ve always enjoyed. Meanwhile, I enjoy engaging with good-hearted people of all skills.

To give our younger, 10 and under, volunteers an opportunity to participate with hands-on construction, we ask them to build roof trusses, using precise jigs and much smaller nails. I love to see a flurry of young volunteers hammering in hundreds of nails at every connection point. The kids also build birdhouses. Each child goes home with a project to call their own. At the end of the day, they feel accomplished, a feeling we all strive for.

bringing in the gable

Bringing in the gable

With my wife, we traveled to Franklinton, Louisiana to assemble homes. My parents have joined me on a trip to Tupelo, Mississippi for a build trip,  Build trips are great to see it all come together. It’s great to have energetic college students who are enthusiastic … and tireless (that’s helpful!). A taste of it in childhood and that interest grows. The kids get inspired early on, then continue the experience into adulthood. We have families that do this every year… I see some on one trip and a couple of years later I might see them again.

Our most recent trip to Tupelo, Mississippi was one outside of our usual procedure. Arriving on-site, ready to begin framing, we discovered the foundation not quite ready. Switching gears from carpenters to masons, we pitched in with the local masons to wrap up the foundation. Others from the group began framing the walls in an offsite warehouse so we could finish up by the end of the weekend.

Autumn is our planning season, and we have some exciting opportunities upon us. As part of ASP’s “New Build” program, we’re participating in a Framing Day for the national representatives of Home Depot in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia this October. We’ll be working with more than three hundred volunteers to build three homes in four days.

Cowboy hat and hammer

Cowboy hat and hammer

My weekends as a hands-on construction worker flow right into my weekdays as an architect. Every day, I’m problem-solving. My volunteer group and my architectural teamwork with the challenges before us… that’s the very nature of the design.

Along the way, we might discover poor soils or any number of things; I always refer to those as design opportunities. They can happen more than once on any project, which needs to fit a tight envelope  – budget, schedule, unique lot shape, and of course, how the clients want to live in the home.

So the puzzle that’s always on my mind is: How do I mix all those together and make a cohesive solution?

Upcoming Events

I am committed to events throughout the year and there are several coming up to round out 2017. These are really fun and rewarding experiences. As the beneficiary of a brand new Stiletto titanium framing hammer, I am eager to drive some nails and work with some truly warm-hearted friends. Contact me (MarkBenner@MEBArchitect.com or 847-412-0692) if you are interested in participating and I can put you in touch with the right folks.

Local Framing Day Event – Saturday, September 16th

Building Homes and Bringing Hope to families in need has been the mission of Solid Rock Carpenters since 2005. At Framing Day, SRC volunteers will be building wall sections of homes that will be shipped to Appalachia Service Projects (ASP) ready for assembly by future SRC and ASP volunteer groups.

A great hands-on construction opportunity to serve others in need, with family and friends, and co-workers!
Who: Everyone is welcome to participate – No experience necessary!
When: Saturday, September 16, 2017 (8am-2pm)
Where: Park Ridge Presbyterian Church, Park Ridge IL
Come Join Us: Solid Rock Carpenters
Questions?  Contact SolidRockCarpenters@gmail.com

Hope Village Project Build Trip – October 1st – 4th

Expanding the Solid Rock Carpenter mission with Appalachian Service Project and The Home Depot
Who: Solid Rock Carpenter leadership
When: October 1 – 4, 2017
Where: White Sulphur Springs, WV

Johnson City Build Trip – October 29th – November 3rd

A great opportunity to serve others in need with family and friends. Everyone is welcome to participate in all levels of experience. On this trip, we will be assembling the walls prepared during previous framing day events.
Who: Everyone is welcome to participate – No experience necessary!
When: October 29 – November 3, 2017
Where: Johnson City, TN
Come Join Us: http://solidrockcarpenters.org/form/14-johnson-city-build-trip-registration-oct-29-2017

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