Janene Reece and her children Dustin, Brandon and Sean today drove the first nails into their new house in East Lawrence.
It's a long way from being finished, but by week's end about 75 percent of the Lawrence Habitat for Humanity home at 1700 Harper should be completed.
The nail-driving celebration Sean, 6, wielded a hammer like a baseball bat marks the start of the fifth Habitat house in the city.
"This is an occasion like an old-fashioned barn raising," said the Rev. John Gingerich, president of the local Habitat group. "Except here, we're doing something perhaps more important. We're helping a neighbor build a house."
The Reece home is part of the national organization's work camp program, which honors Habitat International's 15th anniversary. In the past 15 years, the organization has built 10,000 homes worldwide.
Habitat International, headquartered in Americus, Ga., is sponsoring 15 crews that will travel from June 16 to Sept. 20 to 50 states, Canada and Mexico to raise homes.
THE TRAVELING crew that arrived in Lawrence includes members from New York City; Ames, Iowa; Marion, Ind.; St. Joseph, Mo.; San Fernando Valley, Calif.; High Point, N.C.
Kevin Coleman, a former city of Lawrence administrative aide, works with the Habitat for Humanity organization in Dallas and is one of the traveling volunteers.
"The greatest thing about Habitat is I may get involved because I believe in human rights. Others may because of Bible scriptures. Some because it's a tax break," he said. "But the important thing is that we all come together. At the end of the day you can see the progress."
Last week, Coleman was in Miami with former President Jimmy Carter, a driving force in Habitat. Volunteers there built 14 houses and a day care center.
In Dallas, Habitat focuses on a single downtown neighborhood. The organization owns 20 properties in a four-by-four block area, Coleman said.
"Habitat makes a difference there," he said. "Even people not associated with us make improvements on their homes."
Another volunteer, Loretta Mateson, is from Mesa, Ariz. At 73, she said, she's the oldest out-of-town worker. She was in Omaha last week and moves on to Kansas City next week.
"WE SLEPT in a church in sleeping bags in Omaha. Thank God, we had beds to sleep in last night," she said.
Mateson, a bit teary-eyed, said her experience with Habitat's summer program has been rewarding.
"Seeing those three families in Omaha was beautiful. People with low incomes are getting a house of their own," she said.
In the past, Habitat volunteers walked 1,000 or more miles from city to city to build homes and generate publicity for the organization.
As a symbolic gesture, 65 people walked from the Douglas County 4-H Fairgrounds to the tree-shaded construction site on Harper.
If all goes well, organizers hope to finish the Reece home by September. On the same 1.6-acre lot, Habitat plans to also build four duplexes.
Craig Jacob, work-camp coordinator of this project, said about 100 volunteers will be involved today through Saturday.
He said Habitat's greatest obstacle is lack of funding for building projects.
"The community has come through for us in the past. We look for the same now," he said.
Rep. Sandy Praeger, R-Lawrence, said at the ceremony that Habitat has strengthened her belief that Lawrence retains a sense of community.
"I worry at times as we get busy with our lives and the world grows, that we will lose this. But when you see this, you know that community is alive and well," she said.
Janene Reece must work 350 "sweat hours" on behalf of Habitat in addition to paying for the house, which will she will purchase at cost about $30,000.