A Party in Hard Hats: Friends Volunteer To Build Habitat House in Riverside - 27 East

A Party in Hard Hats: Friends Volunteer To Build Habitat House in Riverside

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Ellen Greaves and  Liz Karpin work on the tile in the bathroom at the house.  DANA SHAW

Ellen Greaves and Liz Karpin work on the tile in the bathroom at the house. DANA SHAW

Peg Greave and Jacquie Harned work on the floors in the one of the bedrooms.  DANA SHAW

Peg Greave and Jacquie Harned work on the floors in the one of the bedrooms. DANA SHAW

Joy Flynn works on mending the fence.  DANA SHAW

Joy Flynn works on mending the fence. DANA SHAW

Pat Sanders, Kathy Dunn and Lauren Matsen cut floor boards.  DANA SHAW

Pat Sanders, Kathy Dunn and Lauren Matsen cut floor boards. DANA SHAW

Liz Karpin cuts tile for the bathroom.  DANA SHAW

Liz Karpin cuts tile for the bathroom. DANA SHAW

Jayne Katz and Nan Liubenov measure floor boards in one of the bedrooms.   DANA SHAW

Jayne Katz and Nan Liubenov measure floor boards in one of the bedrooms. DANA SHAW

Kathy Daly and Linda Borenstein get ready to grout one of the bathrooms.  DANA SHAW

Kathy Daly and Linda Borenstein get ready to grout one of the bathrooms. DANA SHAW

Ellen Greaves and Liz Karpin work on the tile in one of the bathrooms.  DANA SHAW

Ellen Greaves and Liz Karpin work on the tile in one of the bathrooms. DANA SHAW

Pat Sanders and Lauren Matsen place floorboards in one of the bedrooms.  DANA SHAW

Pat Sanders and Lauren Matsen place floorboards in one of the bedrooms. DANA SHAW

Jayne Katz and Nan Liubenov cut floor boards in one of the bedrooms.   DANA SHAW

Jayne Katz and Nan Liubenov cut floor boards in one of the bedrooms. DANA SHAW

Kitty Merrill on Jun 7, 2023

Asked what inspired them to volunteer to work on a Habitat for Humanity house, Linda Borenstein of East Quogue and Kathy Daly of Patchogue simply pointed their tools, a grout spatula and a putty knife, toward Pat Sanders.

“Pat does the most amazing things,” said Robin Tyson-Stoehr of Aquebogue, as she painted a fence at an under-construction house on Vail Avenue in Riverside. “We would follow her anywhere.”

While most people looking to connect friends host a party, Sanders, 73, of Hampton Bays gathered disparate friends on May 31 for a day of laying floors, tiling showers and painting a fence at one of a half dozen Habitat for Humanity homes in the neighborhood.

Habitat has been on Sanders’s radar for years, the vivacious volunteer who lends her hand to an array of local nonprofit organizations explained. In fact, last year, she participated in a build event in a home just behind the one where the friends gathered last week. Looking, especially, to join one of Habitat’s empowering “women build” events, she was dismayed to discover none of the available dates worked.

Undeterred, she learned she could form her own “mini” group — and that’s what she did.

Clad in neon green T-shirts with hot pink lettering that read “Women Build,” the 14 friends arrived at the Vail Avenue home and set to work, learning from Habitat professionals how to install floors and tiles.

“I’m going to regrout my house,” Borenstein said, as she worked in a shower cleaning off paste. She’d turned her hand to improvement projects at her own home, but “never like this,” she said.

Few of the group had experience; none with large table saws. Using those was, “Oh, my!” Sanders exclaimed, delighted.

Before work commenced, site supervisor Emra Hallaceli and his team offered instructions. As work began, construction crew leader Nicole Mahoney got down on the floor of one of the home’s three bedrooms to show Peg Graeve of Hampton Bays and Jacqui Harned of Oakdale how to place lengths of flooring.

Graeve was spurred to join the effort, “to be a part of a group helping others, you’re working for a common cause.”

Harned said she’d always wanted to work on a Habitat house, a statement echoed by coworkers throughout the morning.

Members of Sanders’s group weren’t the only volunteers lending their hands at the house that day. Madeline Stipo drives out from Amityville frequently and, said Hallaceli, “She gets here before us.” She’s been working with Habitat since after the pandemic opening. “You learn a lot,” she said.

Bob Lipori travels from Miller Place and has been volunteering for several months. “We’re teaching each other,” he said, adding the satisfaction the work brings is “kind of addictive.”

The women who joined Sanders on Vail Avenue may have also been bitten by the build bug. “They sent me thank-you notes,” she enthused this week. And the last line of each was the same: Sign me up next time.

“It was the best day,” Sanders said on May 5. “Days later, I still have a big grin on my face.”

She reported that for days before the build, “Everyone was so excited.” She kept getting “I can’t wait” messages. And afterward, friends said, “I learned something, I accomplished something. This gave back to me in so many ways.”

“It was definitely a social event,” Sanders continued. The women knew her and perhaps one other person in the group. By day’s end, she said, “They came out of it sharing emails and phone numbers.”

“It was all I hoped it would be,” the organizer said. And, yes, the atmosphere was celebratory and convivial, just as if the gathering was a more traditional networking event. “I felt like I was hosting a party!” Sanders said.

The sole difference?

“We all left with hard hat hair,” she laughed.

Adding icing to the construction cake? Sanders got to peek inside the house she worked on last year, when it was “pretty skeleton-like.”

During the ceremonial wall raising of that house in February 2022, construction supervisor Chris McNamee said, “It’s amazing to work with people who come out to help people they don’t know and will probably never even see again.”

The Sanders group didn’t get to see the homeowner they helped. She was at her job, not there that day. It didn’t matter to any of them; they were thrilled to write their names and messages to her on beams along the main hallway.

The Southampton Housing Authority and Habitat for Humanity of Long Island are transforming the neighborhood between Vail Avenue and Old Quogue Road in Riverside. Contrary to the myth, Habitat houses aren’t free. Would-be homeowners are income-qualified and are required to put in 300 hours of “sweat equity,” by working on their own or other homes, as their down payment.

Habitat houses benefit from predominantly donated materials and manpower. Already at the site of the Vail Avenue house, shrubs had been placed alongside the house, ready for planting.

Each homeowner will sign on for a 30-year mortgage with 2 percent interest, as Habitat holds a second mortgage on the homes. Between the mortgage, taxes and insurance, the cost of the house is designed to meet the threshold of 30 percent of the homeowner’s income.

While sweat equity, a low mortgage rate and generous material and labor donations take care of the house, the single-largest impediment that Habitat faces in addressing the need for affordable housing on Long Island is the sheer paucity and cost of land.

For the Riverside project, the land for five houses cost just $1. The five contiguous parcels were part of Suffolk County’s 72-H program, which takes land that was seized for delinquent taxes and offers it to municipalities to create affordable housing opportunities. The ground-breaking for the first house was held in November 2021.

On May 31, yet another Habitat house was under construction down at the end of Vail Avenue. The land for it, too, was procured through the 72-H program and brings the total of new homes in the neighborhood to six.

Habitat for Humanity of Long Island was formed in 1987, and built its first home for a single mother in Riverhead. It’s an independent affiliate of the international organization created in 1976. The organization’s goal is building between six and eight homes each year, with the motto: “We build strength, stability, and self-reliance through shelter.”

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