AmeriCorps crew lends a hand to Habitat Humanity Vail Valley, right when it’s most needed
GYPSUM — December is a busy month, but while folks are filling their days on the newly open slopes, in local shops or at home readying things for the holiday season, the Habitat for Humanity Vail Valley work schedule can’t grind to a stop.
Luckily, a handy group of helpers has spent the past six weeks making sure it didn’t.
Today is the final day on the job site for a team of AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps — NCCC — members who have been working with Habitat on four housing units for families in Eagle County. The group of 11 young adults — ages 18 to 24 — arrived on Nov. 9.
“This time period, for Habitat, is a time when we are traditionally down in volunteer activity — the mountain is open and the holidays are coming,” said Kalie Palmer, director of operations for Habitat for Humanity Vail Valley. “The labor provided by the NCCC team will greatly accelerate our construction timeline at a time of year where our volunteer numbers traditionally drop.”
Along with their construction efforts, Palmer said the team provides an infusion of new energy that is inspiring to staff, partner families and regular volunteers.
“We really admire and enjoy working with these young individuals who are dedicating nearly a year of their lives to serve our country and the community,” Palmer said.
The NCCC team members arrived in Gypsum with willing spirits, but they needed a bit of training. “Because they are here for six weeks, we spend a little more time teaching them basic carpenter skills,” Palmer said. But Habitat has expertise in teaching amateurs basic carpentry.
“Most volunteers who come to work with us, even for one day, aren’t construction professionals,” Palmer explained. Habitat must continually train its rotating volunteer crews, so it was a boon to have the same team working on site for more than a month.
“They gain so much efficiency and skill every day they come back. Every time they use the saw, they get better at it,” Palmer said.
AmeriCorps NCCC first served with Habitat in 2017. Since then, two teams previously served 4,984 hours with the organization. Some of the cumulative accomplishments of those teams include helping build 10 homes and weatherizing 12 homes.
Six weeks later
NCCC team leader Simone Wahnschafft said the group contributed approximately 2,500 hours of labor at the Gypsum Habitat site.
“It’s been amazing. We got to see a really fulfilling part of the process,” she said.
A particular high point of their stay was when the group literally raised the roof at the site. It was an important milestone for the crew, because it means that volunteers can continue working through the winter months.
Speaking of winter, many locals and ski enthusiasts welcomed the past month’s cold temperatures and snowy conditions, but they presented a challenge for the NCCC crew. It’s difficult for professional carpenters to work outside when it is snowing, let alone a crew of newbies with many members who hail from warmer climates.
During their time on site, the crew also built walls, installed windows and placed siding. They were housed at the Gypsum Annex Building, and to hone their carpentry skills, the team members built some shelves at the annex that will serve future crews.
At home in Gypsum
Providing temporary housing is a key factor that allows Habitat to bring in NCCC crews.
“None of this would be possible without the support from the town of Gypsum,” Palmer said. “Having the annex building available has been a complete game-changer for us.”
The annex building — a former residence the town purchased after development of the playing field complex off Cooley Mesa Road — has a kitchen, bathrooms and bedrooms. Furnished with bunk beds and other donations to the Habitat ReStore, the annex houses the team during their six-week stay. Additionally, crew members receive free passes from the Gypsum Recreation Center and ECO Transit.
While this is her first turn as a team leader, it is Wahnschafft’s second stint with NCCC.
She said crew members enjoyed their engagement with locals and were, in turn, interested to see locals’ engagement with their surroundings.
“This is a particularly welcoming community,” she said. “People make the conscious decision to be here. The mountains are what bring them out here and the outdoors is the community space.”
After they finish up their work today, the NCCC crew will head back to the NCCC home base in Aurora for a couple of days. From there, members will disperse to their homes for the Christmas holiday. In January, they will begin new assignments — on different teams, in new communities. Before they graduate from the 10-month program in July, the team members will travel to a series of other six- to 12-week projects in communities located throughout the central and southwestern United States.
“Our people are definitely anxious to find out where they are going next and sad to be leaving friends,” Wahnschafft said.
But they are departing Eagle County with a sense of accomplishment.
“Getting those roofs on was a big goal,” Wahnschafft said. “Now the sites are dried in for the winter.”