building houses for habitat for humanity

Putting His Back Into Lending A Hand

A day’s hard work makes a difference

When Warren Runk and his wife moved to the Pacific Northwest two years ago, they used the occasion as an opportunity to take a look at their lives. “It was a good time to reset and take stock of what we were doing with our lives, and what sorts of things were important to us,” Runk says. “The two of us have been doing things like volunteering at the food bank, helping with nonprofits. But the Habitat for Humanity thing kind of just came out of the blue.”

Runk, 35, is referring to the longstanding nonprofit Habitat for Humanity, which, for almost 50 years, has been working to provide “a decent place to live” for people in need in all 50 United States and more than 70 countries around the world. Often, this takes the form of a summer commitment in which a volunteer—or in some cases a family—will travel to a community in need and pitch in to build new houses or repair, improve, or renovate existing homes.

But you can also volunteer locally, and so, when Runk, a software engineering manager, was reminded of the organization by a local news broadcast, he signed up. “With technology these days, it’s easier than ever to get involved,” he told Good Turns recently. “You go right on the website and in five minutes you can book an appointment.”

Soon enough, Runk found himself in Southeast Portland. “It’s not exactly a slum, but it’s definitely on the side of town that needs help,” he said. “At this particular spot there were probably a total of 10 units. They find lower-income families, a lot of which are immigrants or refugees or people who are really not having a good time. And they get their own houses, fully built, with all the amenities people would need.”

And the homes themselves are “really nice products,” Runk reports. “It’s not like a bunch of amateurs building these crappy houses.”

“You feel like you actually did something with your Saturday instead of just lounging around”

That’s because the days are long, and the crews led by experienced contractors. “I signed up for a whole day, which starts at 8:30 in the morning. You’ve got to be up early and get there. They start handing out assignments, or doing a light training, right at 8:30.”

“In my case, basically everybody was doing siding that day. They let you choose, do you want to work on a shed, or an the actual house. For me, having that be the first time I’ve done that and with very little construction experience, I chose to work on a shed,” Runk said. “It was a lot of work. Nobody got injured or anything, but you’re tired at the end of the day and you feel like you actually did something with your Saturday instead of just lounging around. It was tiring, but it was also relaxing in a sense. You did something that wasn’t your day-to-day job. It didn’t add some layer of stress.”

Runk was also moved by getting to meet other volunteers and hear about their commitment to the good turn they were doing—something we here at Good Turns can’t recommend enough. “We had the greatest volunteer coordinator,” Runk recalls. “He was this big jolly Filipino man who has lived in this area forever and is probably not making as much money as he could be. Yet it’s extremely important to him to volunteer his time to Habitat. He was just the nicest guy He’s out there with a bunch of unskilled people, a lot of people who are not strong enough to do this job but they want to help. They’re there, giving their Saturday. And he’s got the most patience. The whole time there’s this smile on his face, he’s telling jokes, making the best of it. He feels like it’s making the difference, so he’s willing to forego a higher salary or other benefits because of what’s important to him.”

“It was pretty strenuous, but I definitely plan to go back. I plan to do it at least once a quarter if not once a month,” Runk said. Spending a single day on a project, though, doesn’t necessarily bring the same sense of accomplishment as building a house from start to finish, but that isn’t an obstacle. “It’s not something that’s immediately gratifying, but you can tell it’s something important.”

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