When they asked for the 2018 Women Build by Columbia Gorge Habitat for Humanity to have a “Rosie the Riveter” theme, the visiting team had no idea that the first female to work on airplanes during World War II resided in The Dalles.
Ada Wyn Parker, 95, quickly became their hero and even autographed posters at Monday’s welcome dinner, which was held at Sunshine Mill. She also showed up at the Lyle build site the next morning to do a little work and sign the first wall that went up.
“I can hammer a nail — you better believe it,” said Wyn, who received a round of applause from other volunteers.
The 10 women who came from across the United States planned to have the walls of the 1,200-square-foot home on Fourth Street in Lyle up by the end of the week.
A home is also planned for The Dalles but the permitting process did not get finalized soon enough for the women to work on that 12th Street property, said Chad Krause, executive director of Gorge Habitat.
He was complimented several times by Barb Mason, one of the women’s team members, for “having the most organized project” work site they had seen.
One hour and 35 minutes after they started work Aug. 23, the first wall was raised, which Mason credited to the local team having everything ready to roll.
“I’ve never been on one more organized,” she told Krause.
Mason, who lives in Toronto, Canada, has been to New Zealand as well as six build sites in the U.S.
Krause said an $1,800 grant from the City of The Dalles provided enough hammers and tool belts that almost any size of a volunteer group can be accommodated, which expedites work.
Mason started her experience with Habitat 12 years ago as a volunteer registrar, but a labor shortage on a local build took her into the field.
“I found that I preferred having tools in my hand rather than a pen,” she said.
A complete novice to begin with, Mason can now hang dry wall, install aluminum siding, roof trusses and much more.
“Everywhere you go, you are learning,” she said. “Being part of something like this is life changing.”
Her team looks for smaller affiliates, such as Gorge Habitat, that could use the extra womanpower.
“There are 15 of us overall so we wait until we get 10-12 together and then we go,” said Mason.
She said the builds are a yearly reunion for the group, made more special by the fact they are making a difference for low-income families, providing them with the opportunity of home ownership.
People applying for a home must demonstrate a need for better housing and pass an extensive background check, which includes character references, employer interviews and an audit of finances, said Krause.
They must be at 30-65 percent of median income for their county based on family size. In Wasco County, the minimum income standard is $24,000 per year for a family of four and the maximize is $35,640.
In Klickitat County the minimum guideline is the same, but the maximum income for a family of four is $39,000.
Krause said applicants must be willing to invest at least 350 hours of “sweat equity” into the program. In The Dalles, that could mean helping to build the home or volunteering in the office, which is located in the basement of the United Church of Christ at Fifth and Court streets, or the Habitat ReStore, 1001 W. Sixth Street. The ReStore is an outlet for quality new or slightly used building materials and furniture at a fraction of retail prices. In addition to raising funds, ReStores help the environment by diverting thousands of tons of usable materials away from landfills.
Applications for the two houses under construction are being accepted through Sept. 15. Forms may be picked up at the UCC office from 9 a.m. to noon Tuesday through Friday, or requested via email at ColumbiaGorgeHRH@gmail.com.
Krause is the only paid employee for Gorge Habitat and said the program relies on volunteer labor. He said churches and civic organizations are always invited to participate, as are community members.
Cathy Smith is a member of the 2018 build team and is hosting the other members at her Goldendale home.
“This year was great because I didn’t have to travel,” she said. “We bonded instantly several years ago, and it is a great group.”
Smith decided to get involved with Habitat to “give back” and has helped build affordable housing in Montana (twice), Hawaii, Vermont and South Carolina.
“I had some knowledge because my dad was a builder, but I’ve learned on the job,” she said.
Members of the team are mostly retired and come from as far away as Maryland and as near as Salem.
Nancy King is a retired physician from New York on her fourth annual build.
“It’s lovely. Everyone has a different level of skills, and people are so patient about teaching me,” she said.
Each year, the women contribute $1,000 to Habitat and pay their own way to the chosen location.
Smith said all of the team members are dedicated to making a difference in the lives of others. “I keep in mind the verse ‘To whom much is given, much is expected,’” said Smith. “I believe in Habitat because it is a pure charity, not like others that have high administrative costs.”
Habitat spends less than 5 percent of its revenue on administrative, according to Charity Navigator.
The nonprofit formed in 1976 and has become the largest not-for-profit builder in the world. Headquartered in Americus, Ga., Habitat has a presence around the world and has helped more than 4 million people construct, rehabilitate or preserve more than 800,000 homes in the past 12 years.
For more information, call 541-296-8817 or visit www.columbiagorgehabitat.org.