Md. first lady pitches in at housing site

Habitat for Humanity town house built solely by women

Investing `sweat equity'

Hilltop Lane homes to be completed by September

June 25, 2000|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

It's not every day under the sun you see a first lady with a hammer and nail in her hands, putting in "sweat equity" on a house construction site with a score of fellow women workers.

But that was the scene yesterday on Hilltop Lane in Annapolis, where Frances Hughes Glendening came to work on a Habitat for Humanity project, a bright white town house for a 35-year-old widow and her two daughters.

"She was so down to earth, it seemed like you knew her forever," said District Court clerk Janice Tutt, as she and others nailed vinyl siding to the front of what will be Tutt's home come September.

"No man worked on this house," said Navy Petty Officer Jeremy Allen, 22, director of construction on the house next door. In all, four units of the "Hope Rising" town houses near Truxtun Park will be finished at roughly the same time, Arundel Habitat for Humanity officials said. One will be occupied by a Bosnian family, who was there yesterday to work on their home's exterior.

Allen's statement went to the heart of the enterprise, a yearlong initiative endorsed by U.S. governors' wives, Glendening said. Titled "First Ladies Build," the goal is a new home in each state built entirely by Habitat for Humanity's female work crews.

"The concept of women all over the country building one, I like that concept," said volunteer Quincy Burton. She said workshops for women covered many of the basic things most men learned in shop, such as how to drive a nail, use power tools and frame a wall, not to mention shingle a roof.

Maryland's first lady concurred: "We bring a different dimension that men, God bless them, don't bring."

`Pride and confidence'

She said the project builds more than houses: "Pride and confidence, gained along the way, too. It's not something somebody gives, they help themselves."

Tutt is one of three single female heads of household who will live in the adjoining units. A graduate of Annapolis Senior High, she works full time as she raises Andrea, 7, and Maya, 6, in public housing.

Since 1998, she has volunteered every Saturday on other Habitat for Humanity projects. "I volunteered on six other houses," she said as she softly told the story of how she came to be standing on this ground, where she could look at plywood and picture her pantry and her living room, which might be "jade and gold and bronze," she told Glendening.

Those selected by Habitat for Humanity for homeownership must invest volunteer labor, earning "sweat equity." Then, if selected, they receive a no-interest mortgage.

The Arundel chapter has built 38 houses since it was established in 1987, and the goal for 2000 is 10, said board of directors President Rusty Porter, who watched over the hard-hatted women's work, joking, "They don't let me work, I make too many mistakes."

The worldwide nonprofit organization, championed by former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, will construct its 100,001st house near their town of Plains, Ga., later this year, said spokeswoman Linda Gray.

`For my kids'

Looking at her very own version of the American dream, Tutt said, "This will be a safe haven, something I can leave for my kids." Her husband, who died of a brain tumor five years ago, would surely be proud, she added.

Sharon Covert, her future neighbor, was more exultant. "409 Hilltop Lane - I got an address! Icalled everybody last night," she said with a laugh.

The third single mother who will be living in the cluster is Kim Strong, who is raising two sons. She and Tutt were high school classmates, she said.

Around the right corner quietly labored a man, Slavko Karan, who three years ago came from war-torn Bosnia to this country. An employee at Anne Arundel Medical Center, he will live there with his wife, Sima, and daughter Slavica, 19. "This is my house," he said.

As she prepared to leave, Glendening hopped off a platform, where she had been wielding a hammer with increasing vigor. "Until you do it, you can't speak to it," she said, promising to be back.

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