The whine of a circular saw cut through the still morning air at Habitat for Humanity of Johnson County’s latest build site in New Whiteland.
Employees of Ladies of Change, a group of Mutual Savings Bank volunteers, yelled out measurements and sawed pieces of siding for the new five-bedroom room. Some picked up those pieces, carried them to the side of the house where other workers secured them in place with a nail gun. Inside, a separate group painted drywall.
The assembled workers were taking part in what has become a tradition within Habitat for Humanity — community-minded women, all focused on raising money and giving their time to ensure a local family finds their first real home.
“There’s so much energy. When you have a bunch of women together, there’s laughter, talking about your kids. It’s a different feeling,” said Lee Ann Wilbur, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Johnson County. “Just have a group of women come out and embrace the homeowner, do something out of their comfort zone, it’s full of joy.”
Habitat for Humanity of Johnson County’s Women’s Build is underway, drawing more than 250 supporters who have put up studs, hung drywall, installed windows and doors, and painted the exterior, among many other jobs.
The singular spirit and dedication of the volunteers has been inspiring to be part of, said Misty Bruhn, the homeowner of the build.
“It means the world to me. Every kid needs a backyard to run around in and a room of their own,” she said.
Since work started on the house in mid-September, Bruhn has demanded to be part of every day of construction that has taken place.
When Bruhn learned about Habitat for Humanity from the human resources department at her work, she felt it would be a good opportunity for her and her four children — ages 18, 17, 12 and 6 — to have a home of their own.
She completed the application process, submitting a credit check, verifying her income level and going through an interview. In the end, she was accepted.
Habitat for Humanity partners with families to provide them with an affordable home, and spends about two months building the houses. The new owners receive a 20-year, interest-free mortgage for the house. Families take financial classes and pay “sweat equity” — between 200 and 400 hours of volunteer labor on their home and other Habitat and community projects.
Once closing on the house, the homeowner is responsible for monthly mortgage payments.
“It’s been amazing. I’ve wanted to be a part of every day of building,” she said.
Alongside her every step of the way has been the Women’s Build volunteers.
The Women’s Build started in Johnson County in 2013. Habitat for Humanity is a national nonprofit with chapters throughout the country, including the Johnson County group that formed in 2006. The county chapter has since built 22 homes for area families who otherwise could not afford one, selling the houses to them at an affordable rate.
Wilbur had known of other Habitat for Humanity chapters around the country that did similar all-women projects, and thought it would generate excitement among people who had not yet been part of the organization.
“I thought if these other counties could do it, Johnson County could do it,” Wilbur said.
In preparation, she and a core team of Habitat for Humanity supporters visited Women’s Builds in Bloomington and Morgan County. They spoke with organizers in those chapters, learned what worked well for putting together the projects, then tweaked it to fit Johnson County.
The inaugural build was a massive success, drawing hundreds of volunteers. Every time since, the Women’s Build has been increasingly popular, with teams raising between $125,000 and $130,000 for the construction, Wilbur said.
“We have 250 women here in Johnson County coming out here to build a house, doing things that they wouldn’t normally do. It’s very empowering for them,” she said.
Teams from 15 local businesses and organizations sign up to take part, with many choosing fun nicknames such as Beams to Dreams or Babes That Build. Team leads from each group recruit between 10 and 15 volunteers to take part, and each team is responsible for raising $6,000.
Women’s Builds are done every other year, and this is the fifth time the projects have been organized. Many of the participating teams have taken part every year.
“We’re a community bank, and the thing that is most important to us is our community and the people who reside within it,” said Sabrina Straessle, team lead for the Mutual Savings Bank team. “Our bank has done the Women’s Build for years now, and we want to keep giving back.”
Construction on the home is scheduled to continue through October, and the house will be dedicated at a later time. Bruhn has kept the house a secret from all of her kids except her oldest; she regularly does community service at food pantries around the county, so her younger kids assume that all of the time she’s been spending at the build has been serving at one of her volunteer commitments.
“For the other ones, they won’t know until the celebration day,” she said. “It’ll be a surprise.”