Constructing Hope

James Hunter walks into the current house they are building for Habitat for Humanity in Graham, NC on Jan. 20, 2022. Hunter gets to the job site at 7:30 a.m. along with Billy Graves and Michael Daniels to set up the house before the volunteers come at 8 a.m.

James Hunter has been the construction manager for Alamance County’s Habitat for Humanity for the past three years. He has worked for many other companies prior, such as McDevitt and Street, as well as working for himself and getting his contractor’s license.

 

One day when Hunter was in Lowe’s, he ran into a friend who asked if he would be interested in working for Habitat. He was unsure at first, but once hearing more details about Habitat, such as the work schedule and what he would be doing, which isn’t too different from what he was doing then, he was all in. 

 

“At first it was a little difficult for me because I’m a hands-on kind of person and it’s hard to delegate,” Hunter said.

 

Hunter said it took him a while to learn to let go of being in control of everything. It was important to him to teach the frequent volunteers how to do things, so he can focus on those who come less frequently or who are first timers. 

 

It is important to Hunter to keep new volunteers interested and engaged during their time at Habitat, as he knows that is the only way they will come back.

 

“I know who my regulars are, and I know they’ll come back, but for others, if they don’t have enough to do or aren’t engaged, they’re not coming back,” Hunter said.

 

As Elon is in close proximity and is in good relations with Habitat for Humanity, the organization often gets a lot of Elon volunteers. Many Elon students help work on houses each week. On average it takes about five months to finish a house depending on the weather, as well as recently it has been difficult with the supply chain shortages getting supplies.

 

Not only do students volunteer for Habitat but so do faculty and staff. Elon University Environmental Services are required to do 16 hours of volunteer work for Habitat every year.

 

“It’s always nice when the environmental service workers come as they aren’t afraid to just jump right in and help,” Hunter said. “With some students and other volunteers you have to hold their hand, which is fine, but make sure they know what they are doing, and always make sure they have a task.”

 

One volunteer, Greg Evans who volunteers every week, used to live in Rochester N.Y. and volunteered for Habitat there. Once he moved down to North Carolina two weeks ago, he started with the Habitat here to meet people through similar interests and improve his knowledge. 

 

“I come to help, but I also come to learn,” Evans said.

 

Once the houses are finished, they have a dedication where the volunteers are invited back who had a part in building the house. This is one of Hunter’s favorite parts as he gets to see those who worked at different times come together to celebrate their work. Hunter said he loves seeing the look on people’s faces when they see the finished houses and giving back to the community. 

 

“I’ve always been a ‘giver backer.’” Hunter said.

 

Hunter said the commercial construction work just didn't have the same feeling of gratification he gets from putting a community member in a house when "there is no other way they would’ve been there.”

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Micah McCravey replaces the blade in his handheld tool as he prepares for the work day on Jan 19, 2022. He has worked for Habitat since July 12, 2021 and has been the assistant construction manager since July 2021. McCravey really appreciates the volunteers' help. “We rely on the volunteer help, especially with bit work like this,” McCravey said “We couldn’t do it without them.”

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James Hunter grabs a few drill guns to put around the house to get ready for the day on Jan. 19, 2022. Hunter said he loves working for Habitat and being able to give back to the community.

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Billy Graves, who has been working at Habitat for about six years, shows Elon University freshman Emily Cozzone and sophomore Danielle DaSilvia how to use a drill gun during their time volunteering for Habitat on Jan. 19, 2022. This was both Emily and Danielle’s first time volunteering at Habitat, and they both said they hope to be able to come back and help more during their time at Elon.

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Many volunteers who work on the houses will write a message on the structure of the house to wish the homeowners the best, which is a tradition throughout all Habitat builds. “May this home be filled with love and fun!” wrote Amanda Farris, a previous Habitat for Humanity volunteer. Hunter said he loves seeing the messages that people write and knowing the community that is being built from building houses.

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Bobby Sipe, who works for Elon University Lock Shop Facilities, and Paul Holt, who is a maintenance engineer, help Micah McCravey measure a wall during their time volunteering for Habitat for Humanity. While Hunter and McCravey appreciate all of the student help, they really appreciate when Elon’s environmental service workers come to help as they will just jump right in without needing to be told what to do. Elon University environmental service workers are required to volunteer for 16 hours every year.

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Greg Evans has been volunteering at Habitat for the last 2 weeks. He really appreciates his time helping. “I come to help, but I also come to learn,” he said. Greg, who used to live in Rochester N.Y. and worked at Habitat there, moved to North Carolina two weeks ago and continues to volunteer when he can.

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Paul, Bobby, Michael and Billy take a break from working and hang out during their down time on Jan. 20, 2022. They enjoy the time to converse without all of the noises making things hard to hear.

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Michael Daniels comes into the office on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022 to help paint the doors. When the weather gets bad or there are electricians working in the house, Hunter and his team move into the office to paint the doors. When Daniels isn't helping at Habitat he is volunteering for his church in Greensboro.

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The main living room area of a finished Alamance County habitat house. Once the construction is done, the homeowner is able to start moving furniture in as seen by the couches and boxes. All Alamance County habitat houses have the same layout which makes assigning houses easier. Those who apply for housing are only looking for location rather than layout and location. On average, it takes about four to five months for them to finish a house and they work on four-five houses at a time.