Bob The Builders, Episode 2021

Building Habitat for Humanity Homes during COVID-19


Photo provided by Sarah Crow

Habitat volunteers move equipment and materials at a build site.

Zoe Cote, Staff Writer

Walls, beams and infrastructure are tented every Saturday morning on the Habitat plot of Ladd Drive’s newest resident, Bri Johnson, as the annual Hockaday/St. Mark’s build begins in new, adapted circumstances.


Dallas Area Habitat for Humanity is an affordable housing nonprofit that helps Dallas citizens become homeowners. Homeowners invest in their properties through “sweat equity” where they collaborate with Habitat volunteers, like Hockaday students, during the build times for their house and other Habitat homes.


Hockaday and St. Marks have collaborated on the Habitat for Humanity builds to build 14 houses in the last 13 years. Habitat liaison senior Sarah Crow said her time with the organization over the last four years has helped her establish relationships with St. Mark’s friends.


“I think the Habitat house is a symbol of the connection and community between Hockaday and St. Marks,” Crow said. “It’s really fun and a great way to build relationships. The best way to support Habitat is to be excited about it, talk about it, go to the builds and make it a symbol of our relationship with St. Mark’s.”


Amid COVID-19 setbacks this year, however, volunteers have been limited in their construction efficiency. Hockaday’s Social Impact Director, Laura Day, mourns the lost community element amid COVID-19 regulations, but finds silver linings in the program’s adaptability.


“It’s great that we get to offer something,” Day said, “but I miss the giant gatherings where we got to collectively be there.”


While she can no longer supervise builds with the new limitations, Day’s role in the Habitat House this year is coordinating build dates, spreading the word on the student-volunteer end and negotiating Hockaday’s COVID-19 protocols with Habitat.


St. Mark’s senior Gabe Bines, a regular Habitat volunteer, said he has loved his time on builds over the last four years and continues to this year despite the complications of building beneath the umbrella of school regulations.


“We can only have 10 people onsite at any time, so I miss seeing familiar faces and friends at builds like last year,” Bines said. “Everything takes a lot longer, you have to wear a mask all the time, which really stinks, and you can’t share tools. On the bright side though, there’s always something to do.”


Bines had planned on becoming a Habitat “core-volunteer” this year, the certified build-guides who assist students onsite. The pandemic, however, limited time and availability to complete proper certification which includes attending a number of Dallas builds and summer classes for seniors to demonstrate efficiency with tools.


While Crow got certified in 2020, her process was different than most. Crow said Habitat evaluated her qualifications using prior build experience and volunteership over the last four years to allow her to get certified as a core-volunteer. This year she became one of Hockaday’s Habitat liaisons alongside senior co-liaison Lauren Bailey.


Because of the undecided nature of fall 2020, the Hockaday/St. Mark’s Habitat program opted to transition to a spring build this year. While two February build sessions were cancelled due to snow, the hope is to finish before May.


“Over the past few years we’ve gone back and forth between doing a fall house and a spring house,” Crow said. “Spring builds work better with the football schedule which is good, and oftentimes in the fall, students are more focused on getting community service hours in. But we’re hoping we can still finish on time, either by adding days or being more productive.”


Day predicts Habitat builds will look more normal next year as conditions improve for COVID-19 in Texas.


“As vaccinations improve I bet it’ll look a lot better,” Day said.


Between weekly builds and monthly core-volunteer meetings, Crow is also president of Habitat’s Junior Board, managing build funds and teaching fundraising skills, and managed to fully fund the house despite COVID-19 setbacks.


“The houses get more and more expensive to build every year,” Crow said. “Habitat Junior Board fundraises and solicits all build donations from family and friends to support Habitat. Neither school provides direct funding for the house, but both Hockaday and St. Mark’s are extremely supportive.”


Crow said the best way to support builds, besides donation, is by connecting with students from other grade levels to foster the Habitat tradition.


“I think it’s really important to have people from all grades volunteering so that way people are constantly excited about the project,” Crow said.


This year’s benefactor is 27-year-old Dallasite Bri Johnson. Johnson worked as a nurse and frontline worker during the height of the pandemic and, like other Habitat beneficiaries, is excited to take the leap into homeownership after a taxing year for hospital employees.


Habitat builds take place every Saturday, with four open spots from 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and four open spots from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Upper School students ages 16 and older can sign up through MobileServe.