Boots for Building 2014: “Get Your Boots On and GIVE BACK!”

by Henry Randolph

“Remember:  we leave no one behind.”  Iraq veteran and former U.S. Representative Patrick Murphy helped kick off the first-ever Boots For Building with those words, encouraging more than 150 military veterans from around the region not to forget about those in the community who need their help.  From September 19 – 21, veteran volunteers from Team Rubicon, Student Veterans of America and Team Depot joined us in Philadelphia to build and repair homes for veterans and non-veterans alike, thanks to a grant from The Home Depot Foundation.  Over these three days their work sent a powerful message:  veterans are still heroes even after they’ve left military service—and more than that, they’re still indispensable to a healthy community.  Across our construction sites, one rallying cry came up again and again:  “Get your boots on and give back!”

And our crew did just that in the Germantown section of Philadelphia, where they worked with homeowner and military veteran Ken Houston to make critical repairs to his home.  After leaving the U.S. Marine Corps in 1971, Ken graduated from St. Joseph’s University, bought a house in Germantown, and dove into a career focused on youth development and

Veteran volunteers at a Habitat Philadelphia home repair project

Volunteers from Team Rubicon, Team Depot and Student Veterans of America worked with Habitat staff to renovate the 2nd floor of Ken’s home.

community engagement.  Even in retirement Ken is deeply involved with community projects, but he’s taking things more slowly these days.  He used to love doing repair work on his home himself, but it’s becoming more difficult to make those repairs now, at age 65 and on a fixed retirement income. “I’m getting older and my knees won’t let me do as much or carry heavy things,” says Ken.

Many of the home’s issues stem from long-term roof damage that he couldn’t afford to repair.  “Water damaged the entire second floor, so I’ve been living in only one room of the house—cooking, eating, sleeping, working—everything,” says Ken.  It’s been hard for someone as naturally engaged and active as he is.  “When everything is in one room, it’s hard to read, it’s hard to relax, because I’m always thinking about other things that need to be done, or worrying about things in the house falling apart.  There’s always a sense of urgency.”

More than 30 volunteers worked on Ken’s house during Boots For Building, helping with everything from exterior painting and façade repair to bathroom renovations. The improvements mean big changes in Ken’s life, both tangible and intangible.  Most noticeable, he says, is the peace of mind.  “Once the work is done, I’ll be able to spread out and be less cramped. I’ll have the ability to relax.”  He started feeling better almost

Team Depot, Team Rubicon and Student Veterans of America at Boots for Building

Volunteers repainting the exterior of Ken’s home on Day 2 of Boots For Building.

immediately once we repaired and sealed the roof. “I didn’t realize how much I was worrying about the roof.  But now that it’s repaired, I can enjoy actually living in my home—I can rest and be more productive.  I’m less restless now, and I realized that I’m sleeping better.”  And he’ll finally have space to welcome people into his home again, like his neighbors on the block and his two grown children, who travel back to Philadelphia to visit him.  “They hardly came over before, and they always had to find someplace else to spend the night,” he says.  “Living in one room, it was just too cramped.  Now I finally feel comfortable having them come over and stay.”

Our work will make Ken’s house more comfortable and longer-lasting, allowing him to stay safe and secure at home for many years to come.  And Ken says his house is more than that—it’s an affirmation of his role as a teacher, supporter, and advocate for the neighborhood. “I used to be the Director of the Boys’ Club of Germantown, which is just down the street,” he says. “The boys that I worked with—every time they walked to the club they’d pass my house.  Now a lot of those boys are adults, but they’re still living in the neighborhood.  After all these years, the house isn’t falling down.  To me, the appearance of my repaired house is a visual sense of stability for the community.”

Home repair volunteer at Habitat Philadelphia

Before and after: the house looks great! Habitat volunteers and staff join Ken in front of his house, with its new coat of paint and new windows.

By the final day of Boots For Building, Ken’s house looked completely different.  Newly-replaced windowpanes and a bright new coat of exterior paint made the home glow in the afternoon sun.  Inside, volunteers had helped to literally double the amount of livable space, with new drywall and fresh paint catching the bright sunlight that streamed through the upstairs bedroom windows.  Neighbors honked and waved from passing cars or took photos as they walked past, telling Ken how amazing his home looked.  Before they left, our crew of veteran volunteers presented Ken with a hardhat signed by everyone who had worked on his home.  It was a symbol of the connection they had—both as military veterans and as members of the community invested in each other’s well-being.  Each veteran there understood what it meant to give freely of themselves in service to others, and knew the truth in the statement they had all heard many times before:  “We leave no one behind.”

Habitat home repair homeowner Ken with hardhat

Ken, a military veteran and homeowner, puts on the hardhat that Boots for Building volunteers signed and presented to him.


About Habitat Philadelphia

Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia is an independently chartered affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International (HFHI), the largest nonprofit homebuilder worldwide. Locally, Habitat Philadelphia is on a mission to transform lives and our city by building and repairing quality homes in partnership with families in need, and uniting all Philadelphians around the cause of affordable housing. Our Vision is a city where all Philadelphians live in safe, affordable homes.
This entry was posted in Habitat Families, Partners, Sustainability, Weatherization/Home Repair and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Boots for Building 2014: “Get Your Boots On and GIVE BACK!”

  1. Pam Walz says:

    Beautiful job! I’m so happy for our neighbor Ken. Thank you for your wonderful work.

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