Raising walls and building hope

Habitat for Humanity, Washington officials' wives help construct houses

September 25, 2002|By Amanda J. Crawford | Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

With a tool belt strapped around her waist, Stephanie Glakas-Tenet, wife of CIA Director George J. Tenet, struggles to hammer a nail into a two-by-four supporting a wall of the Habitat for Humanity townhouse going up on Hilltop Lane in Annapolis.

She swings the hammer. The nail bends. She tugs it out and tries again.

On the other side of the crowded construction site, Alma Powell, wife of Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, helps dozens of other volunteers raise an exterior wall. Nearby, Kitty Martinez -- wife of Mel Martinez, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development -- uses a level to make sure a wall is perpendicular.

This was the scene yesterday as more than 30 spouses of Cabinet secretaries and other White House officials joined corporate sponsors and Arundel Habitat for Humanity volunteers to work on two townhouses being built for local single mothers and their children.

Surrounded by Secret Service agents and camera crews from CNN and NBC's The Today Show, the women, amid occasional bursts of applause, labored side by side with the soon-to-be homeowners to construct Habitat's 55th and 56th homes in Anne Arundel County.

The project is part of Habitat's Women Building a Legacy Program, which recruits female celebrities and others to build homes nationwide.

Addressing the crowd from a podium at the construction site, Habitat for Humanity co-founder Linda Fuller pointed out that one of six children in the United States lives in poverty, many of them in households headed by single mothers.

"We're here today -- Women Building a Legacy -- to change that," Fuller said. "We are moving children out of poverty."

The Rev. Kathleene Card -- wife of White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. -- led a prayer before Glakas-Tenet, Martinez and Powell took turns praising the efforts of the volunteers and the program.

"We build dreams, we build lives and, yes, we build homes," Glakas-Tenet said of the female participants. "New homes -- and with them, new futures -- are taking shape before our eyes."

She began her remarks by making an odd confession for a Washington spouse: "I am much more comfortable with a plumber's wrench than a public speech."

Later, she plugged her new book Dare to Repair, a how-to book for women about home repairs, then explained why she had problems hammering earlier: "I had bad nails."

Nearby, Allyson Bartlett, wife of White House communications director Dan Bartlett stretched her sore right arm in the air, complaining to friends: "I'm out of hammering shape."

"It's a good experience and it's for a good cause," she said.

Families with incomes of $15,000 to $30,000 dollars -- from 25 percent to 50 percent of the median income in Anne Arundel County -- can qualify for a Habitat home here. The families, which then make payments on zero-interest mortgages, must put in 350 hours on Habitat projects, including 150 on others' homes before construction on their homes begins, said Melanie Smith, president of Arundel Habitat's board of directors.

The homes being worked on yesterday will belong to Julia Colwell and Sylvie Bazan.

Colwell, who runs a cleaning business, now shares a small, two-bedroom Glen Burnie apartment with her two children, Matthew Colwell, 11 and Amy Tiderman, 17.

"You have no idea what it means to us," Colwell, 37, said of owning her own home. "My children will have their own rooms."

Bazan, 41, a collections agent for Ritz Camera, lives in a tiny mobile home in Harwood with her two children, 10-year-old Angelique Bazan and 15-year-old Jeremie Moreno.

Much of yesterday's event was to help publicize Habitat's efforts in Arundel, but by the end of the day work had been done and walls were up.

Glancing across the street to the seven gleaming white townhouses Habitat completed there this summer, Colwell and Bazan said that the event was an exciting way to work on their homes.

"This will be a lot of memories for us, when we are sitting on our front porches," Bazan said. "It is a move toward a better life."

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