Habitat for Humanity's Women Build Program puts more women behind the power tools


Photo Gallery | Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity's Women Build Project

PITTSFIELD -- Laborers were hard at work on Wednesday sawing, hammering and pouring a cement slab for steps at the job site at 10 Goodman Lane.

The workers were part of a team of nearly 80 employees from area businesses, church, civic and political groups who donated their time this month to work on the house on behalf of Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity.

And they all were women.

Melissa Letalien, who helped with painting and putting up sheetrock, said she was glad to put her newfound carpentry skills to use for the nonprofit organization.

"I'm better than I thought," said Letalien, one of 14 Berkshire Life employees participating in the project. "My favorite was using the [circular] saw."

The lady laborers were participating in the Women Build program, a Habitat for Humanity International mission that encourages more women to help build Habitat housing worldwide.

Letalien was among the 14 female employees of Berkshire Life working on the home, situated on a hillside between North and Wahconah streets.

"These groups of women take direction well and they have a wonderful level of enthusiasm," said Luke Kaplan, volunteer coordinator for Central Berkshire Habitat, which is working on its 27th construction project.

Kaplan expects the two-bedroom, split-level raised ranch to be completed in August and occupied by Shamika Mungin and her 6-year-old son, Camryn. The single mother from Pittsfield will purchase the house through Habitat's home ownership program.

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Wednesday's work session was the last of six Women Build days for this year, expanded beyond the one-day events Central Berkshire first held three years ago. The 2014 version of Women Build was so successful that the program may be expanded next year to having entire house being female-built, according Carolyn Valli, executive director for Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity.

"We're working on that if we can get enough regular volunteers," she said. "Just from this event we picked up three women who want to be regular [volunteers] and I expect more to do the same."

Prior to doing on-site carpentry, Valli noted many of the women learned how to handle electrical saws and drills from the staff at the Lowe's home improvement store in Hudson, N.Y.

"The women felt so comfortable after the training, when they got to the site, they didn't hesitate to use the power tools," she said.

Women Build is underwritten by Lowe's, which awarded a $5,000 grant to Central Berkshire Habitat toward building materials for its next project.

Several Berkshire Life employees have participated in Women Build before, bringing home improvement experience with them. Jean Simmons credits a sibling for helping her develop the skill set she brought to Wednesday's job site.

"My brother was a contractor and he trained me along the way," Simmons said. "I can't wait to tell him I used a power tool and I'm sure he'll want to see if I still have all my fingers."

Jan Kent and her husband are constantly renovating their home, but the Pittsfield woman says working on a house for someone else is also very rewarding.

"It gives a whole different perspective to help someone else," said Kent.

Letalien added, "And it gets me away from my desk for a day."

To reach Dick Lindsay:
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