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Employees Pitch In with Habitat for Humanity Project

By Eddy Ball
January 2009

Photo of people working on the exterior of a partially constructed house
The DERT crew neared the end of its productive afternoon in the new Habitat for Humanity Hope Crossing community. (Photo courtesy of Roxanne Hall)

Photo of a man on a ladder using a hammer
Phelps, who spends his day job analyzing program performance for NIEHS, showed that he could also wield a 22-ounce hammer. (Photo courtesy of Roxanne Hall)

Photo of man and woman measuring housing siding with a tape measure
Heather Henry, center, helped an AmeriCorps volunteer measure siding. Liz McNair, right, prepared another section for installation. (Photo courtesy of Roxanne Hall)

Photo: A man on a ladder installs housing siding as a woman on the ground looks on
Astrid Haugen, left, and Haugen's husband John Stranzl, placed siding as Christie Drew and other DERT volunteers worked elsewhere on the house. (Photo courtesy of Roxanne Hall)

Continuing a tradition of community involvement with the non-profit group Habitat for Humanity, members of the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training (DERT) Community Builders group donated an afternoon of their free time in May to help complete one of the final homes in Hope Crossing, the group's first "green" neighborhood in Durham, N.C. The volunteer crew spent a little more than three hours installing vinyl siding on the home and cleaning the cul-de-sac to keep Habitat from receiving a fine from the building inspector.

All the homes in Hope Crossing feature solar panels on the roof for heating water, rain barrels to collect water from downspouts, energy-efficient appliances, and building materials made from recycled products, including the certified lead-free materials used in the children's playground structures. Reflecting Habitat's dedication to building community as well as infrastructure, the residents of Hope Crossing share a large community garden.

The DERT crew was part of a volunteer labor force working with homeowners in the community, who supply "sweat equity" as part of Habitat's interest-free loan program. Many of the materials are donated - helping ensure that the houses average a very affordable $50,000 each.

Veteran crew member Jerry Phelps attended a home dedication just prior to his shift and said he was gratified to see that the entire neighborhood was on hand - many of the residents having satisfied some of their "sweat equity" by helping construct their new neighbors' home. Phelps and co-worker Heather Henry also had an opportunity to revisit some of the houses they had worked on earlier and see new residents enjoying the fruits of their collective efforts.

As Phelps said afterwards, "It was a fun day in the sun doing something with our hands that will truly make a difference in the lives of a worthy family." Phelps encourages anyone interested in volunteering or contributing to Habitat for Humanity to contact him ( or former NIEHS employee Roxanne Hall (, who now works for Habitat, or visit the group's Web site ( Exit NIEHS.

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