First blog post

I started this blog as a way to be more constructive about how I use my time, and how to hone my many talents. You can expect to find posts ranging from professional, of the Agile sort, or more personal discoveries.

The Ultimate Act of Sharing

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Fingers to Keyboard.

It’s a humid Wednesday evening in early February, at our home in the Central Texas Hill Country. I am on medical leave, recovering from my first-ever surgery 23 days ago, and doing incredibly well, minus one kidney.  For six weeks, I cannot lift anything over fifteen pounds, and I cannot drive. Being waited on and asking for help is not my style, but doctor’s orders.

In God’s Plan.

My choice to join the One Kidney Club was a pure act of love. It was not something I had planned, but was in God’s plan. Rewinding the tape to early 2017, my 20-year-old niece Lisa unexpectedly goes into kidney failure. Fast forward a year later, I am sitting with my brother John (Lisa’s father) as he explains the Living Donor Paired Exchange process. The words flew out of my mouth, “Do you want mine?” It took me completely by surprise. I said to myself, “Who said that?” I knew at that moment, without hesitation, this would be my life’s purpose. It would become one of the most important task I would do in my life.

Logistics.

All throughout my journey, I was hyper-focused on the logistics. For every hurdle, I asked myself, “Is this the right path that will result in a kidney for Lisa?” Early on, the transplant team had recommended that I register for the Paired Exchange to give Lisa the best chance with a younger kidney, even though I have a universal blood type (O-negative). The benefit of the Exchange program is that if someone wants to be a living donor, but their blood type is not a match for their intended recipient, they can “exchange” their donated kidney with another donor/recipient pair.

 

At the time of my initial evaluation in June, UC Davis had been doing only locally paired exchanges. I was assured that all participants in the pairings would have surgeries on or around the same day. With that, I agreed that the best option would be to swap for a younger kidney.

The average lifespan of a donated kidney is 20 years, so yes, she could potentially need another transplant in her 40s. A younger kidney, our nephrologist said, would gain her an extra 2-5 years. By the time we got to the month before our transplant, UC Davis joined the National Kidney Registry. Totally different ballgame, because now we were interacting with a national exchange. A swap might happen in New Jersey, which means the extracted kidney travels across the country on an airplane – and who knows what can happen. The exchange is a logistical dance, where all stars have to align, and could take months to find the right pair. We decided that direct donation was the least disruptive; too many things could go wrong after I donate my kidney, only to end up with no kidney for Lisa.

Pre-op, January 9th.

I flew into SFO the day before my pre-op appointment at UC Davis. My brother John picked me up to avoid the risk of picking up unwanted germs riding BART. I was so grateful that John handled all the shuttling to and from my appointments throughout, accommodations before and after surgery, wellness checks, and more importantly his and my sister-in-law’s unwavering gratitude.

At the pre-op appointment in January, the transplant team had a different approach as compared to evaluation. At the evaluation, they were all about providing me enough details in order to make an educated decision. “Are you still okay with going forward with the kidney donation?,” asked my social worker. “Of course!,” I said.   

The nephrologist and the surgeon explained the procedure in intricate detail. Ordinarily, my reaction to cutting anywhere on the body makes me wince, but this time it was different. Seeing the diagram and exactly which artery would be clamped where was fascinating to me. Typically, the surgeon will take the left kidney because it has more artery to graft into the recipient.

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Not once was I anxious about the actual surgery. I will admit I had anxiety a few days before, fearing that I had come into contact with people who might have been ill, despite wearing a mask on the airplane, and staying far away from people who were coughing at my SF office. On the Thursday before surgery, I sat in an Uber next to a peer who called in sick with the flu on Monday. Zinc tablets and pure will allowed me to narrowly escape the flu right in the middle of flu season.

Day Before.

I had accommodations with my brother and his family, in Concord, for the two days prior. Glenn would meet us in Sacramento later today – he was flying in from Texas. John and I loaded up the van with Lisa’s dialysis equipment – she would only be required one more evening of dialysis treatment. Louise (Lisa’s mother) and Lisa stayed back to clean up the house – they met us up at the hotel later that evening. Our hotel was conveniently located on campus, about a 5 minute walk from the hospital. On Day One, we elected to drive to avoid any mishaps in the dark. It took longer to drive and find parking than it did to actually walk – it didn’t help that we missed the turn.

Day One, Admitted, 5:30am, January 15.

My first in-patient surgery experience was relatively smooth. During my check-in, the wristband had Lisa’s name on it. This left kidney of mine was already identifying itself with its new host. God has such a sense of humor! In the surgery prep ward, my nurse said that I had plenty of time to go over and see Lisa. She and I had a tender moment together, talking about what we were about to do. This young lady was my family. I was about to give her an organ from my body. How do you talk about that without crying? But I held it together. This was such a visceral moment for me, but it seemed for her, like just another surgery. Lisa has the strength of a lion. To this point in her life, she had more visits to the hospital than the average 20+. And she holds it together, with enough positivity to fill a stadium. I knew everything would be alright.

The last thing I remember before the anesthesiologist wheeled me away from the surgery prep room was telling him I had a bit of phlegm in my throat. “We are not calling off the surgery for that,” he said. I dreamt of my dog, Flower, who died in 2018. She was always a calming force.

I woke, groggily, as I heard the nurse say “Get the family. She’s awake.” Almost immediately, I see my husband and sister. My heart was so full. I did it! I was well enough to take it all the way to this point, and with success, so far, anyway. My tears flowed. Not tears of pain, but of tears sheer joy and gratitude washed over me. All I could think about was thanking my family for their support and positive thoughts. My important work was done. Now we wait. Several hours later, Glenn told me that Lisa’s surgery went well. Hallelujah! I layed there in recovery for ten hours while they got my room ready. As an organ donor, I was not considered urgent so other trauma patients had priority for the hospital rooms. I was grateful that it was late and the hospital quiet as I was transported to the room where I would stay for the next few days.

My roommate, Lilianna, was a transplant recipient of a deceased donor kidney. She had been in the hospital for three weeks with her adult daughter, who was her translator. It appeared that she was having trouble with the new kidney, and would likely still need some dialysis.  

I have a new appreciation for nurses, having used their services continuously for my three-day hospital stay. They meet your every need, at all hours, and with such grace and compassion. Every time they came to see me, they asked about my pain level, which was surprisingly manageable. I was not on morphine but once, and that was only a half dose while in the recovery room, at my request – and only because the trauma nurse forgot to administer my scheduled pain meds.

Then I saw her!. With eyes as big as saucers, she smiled, awake and alert. Her tiny body was having trouble with medications. Her parents said the new kidney was working great. It would take several adjustments to the meds over several months to get her levels in a good range. Her road was much longer than mine.

Day Two. Walking Already?

I had been wheeled into my room around 10:30PM the night before. The night was long, knocked out with sleep, awakened a few times seeing to the nurse checking my bags in the dmmly lit room. After breakfast, the nurse said, “ready to take a walk?” Now? Yes. There I went, tethered to pole full with bags, and my liquid gold purse (catheter). My brother and husband took turns escorting me on what would be four walks that day. The hardest part was getting up out of the bed.    

Discharge, January 17, sometime before 4:30am.

I knew from my night nurse that I was getting the catheter out at 5am. Finally freed from my Golden Purse, and now temporarily detached from my IVs (I had two, but only one was in-use) my nurse handed me several packages of self-warming microbial cleaning cloths. Alas! A sponge bath like no other! I took my morning walk around the ward, untethered, then napped before breakfast.

Glenn and I discussed with the nurse that I would be discharged after lunch. Glenn returned to the hospital after running errands, and calmly reported that we had no back window in the rental car. A limb must have knocked a hole in it from previous night’s violent winds and soaking rains. He was able to swap out the car at the rental agency. After I was discharged, the next morning, Lisa was moved to my old room, but into the bed by the window. This meant that Lilianna was finally discharged. For that I was also grateful.

The first night at the hotel, Glenn began showing symptoms of an intestinal flu. The next morning, I felt the onset of a chest cold. We kept a distance, despite wanting – actually needing a reassuring hug from one another. We were scheduled to fly back home a week later, after my post-op, but it was clear that this was no 24-hour thing. We bumped the return by five days, just outside of the window that required me to get heparin shots in the gut the day before, day of, and day after flying.

Coming Home.  

The best decision made was getting wheelchair assistance at the airport. I had my own attendant, who never left my side. I didn’t have to lift a finger when going through the Security Checkpoint. Being in the wheelchair for that length of time gave me an opportunity to experience how it was to be disabled. You can’t move. You have to rely on others. A very real sense of being paralyzed. After we got through, she returned to see what the hold up was with Glenn – he was behind us, and then he was not. My chair was facing the exit, so I could not see what was going on. She returned to say that Glenn could not locate his Driver’s License, so he was headed back on the shuttle to the rental returns. She took me to my gate, parked me, facing the check-in desk, and arranged the carry on bags around me. I could not see behind me. As I sat there, helpless. After a while, I called Glenn once, and he sounded in a panic, “I don’t have it yet.” I decided that worry would not serve me. I am well taken care of here at the gate. I will be first on the plane. It’s not the end of the world Glenn will miss the plane, and I will be waiting for him on the other side.

Boarding went quickly, as our flight was not full. Not sure how much time passed after everyone was loaded, but just about when I thought they would be closing the doors, by the Grace of God, in walks my husband, breathless and with sweaty brow.

Totally recommend getting a wheelchair if you are traveling with anyone who has mobility issues. We got the chair mostly for the assist with the baggage. I could walk just fine by then. We were gone a long time.

3+ Months Later, Reunited.

In the first week of May, I went on my first business trip since medical leave. I planned accordingly, knowing that Lisa would be off restrictions by then. On the plane, I took the first hour-and-a-half and wrote a letter to Lisa. My aim was to assure the letter would be relevant from the lens of a 22-year-old young lady.  She and I would now have a different relationship. Whether she is ready to move into this new realm or not, we are, by default, connected. We are kidney twins. I am part of her and she is part of me. I am not one to want anyone to be forever indebted to me. I was divinely guided onto this path. It is the purpose for which God made me.

All those years of disappointment that I my path did not include raising a family flipped end-over-end to right here and now. In God’s infinite wisdom and sense of humor, I am now not only a step-mother, but also a grand-mother, and surrogate-mother.

Finally! I saw Lisa come around the corner of the kitchen at her parents house. I had arrived about 15 minutes before, and was mid-bite, enjoying crunchy appetizers. I looked her over, head-to-toe, “she looks so healthy!”, and we hugged tight, feeling her heart beating almost as fast as mine. I was vibrating with the most intensely beautiful moment I had experiences in all my 56 years. I could not adequately describe the feeling, readily. About a week later, I realized that what I was likely experiencing a sensation similar to what a new mother would feel at seeing her newborn for the first time.

Almost 6 Months Later.

I am in awe that even now, that I have not fully processed what I’ve done. It’s like my emotions on that front are on delay. But, here I am. God designed me for greater things. Things bigger than I could have ever imagined.

 

Gallery of The Journey to the One-Kidney -Club

 

 

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Lisa and me on the Saturday before surgery.
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Theresa, John, Lisa and Louise in Martinez
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Brother Eugene, sister-in-law Mare, me and Glenn at the hotel the weekend before we left CA.
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Finally getting discharged.
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Eugene, wife, and son, Mario.
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Out-and-about and finally feeling more human.
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At the automobile museum. It was so cold in there!
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Capturing the light from the sunset at Old Town Sacramento. Everything seems more vivid for me now. Colors are brighter, and I see the beauty where I would not have before.
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From the gang at work. Also received a care package from my team (no photo available).
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Meeting Lisa for the first time (at 3 months old).
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Early May 2019. Louise, Lisa, and John.
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Three dozen mini roses for the three month kidney donation milestone. From Louise, Lisa and John!
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Feeling pretty good and much more human without the catheter.
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Lisa out for one of her first strolls.
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A gift from the UC Davis Living Donor program. The Starfish Story is a great analogy for my journey, and my mindset. Every act of pure kindness and love matters.
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The next day after arriving home from California, these were waiting for me, from Louise, Lisa, and John. The Farmhouse bouquet lasted several weeks.
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One of the many beautiful murals around town in Sacramento near the capitol.
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Lisa finally getting to go home.
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Our special moment just before surgery.  Now we are kidney twins, connected for life!
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Sister-in-law Louise and sister Theresa. Both of these women took great care for me before, during, and after. As I continue on my journey, I know I could not have gone through this without the support of all of my family members. The positive energy worked!
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The Lovely Lisa on June 5, 2015.

Disrupt the Ordinary: Take-Aways

In early April, I attended the Simmons Leadership Conference in Boston, MA, featuring the most amazing women on this planet. These women did not settle for ordinary, instead reached beyond their own imagination. Truly a gift to see this in action.

A common trait I noticed in each of the women who spoke on stage that day was that when they reached the mountaintop – after soaking up the glory for a moment – they pursued the next vista, the next summit. When you are in the mindset of continuous growth, it’s easier to stay in flow with the wickedly fast changes in our  universe.

Nely Galán

The Opening Keynote delivered by Nely Galán, the former President of Entertainment for Telemundo, said she never let fear and failure stop her progress.

“Do it anyway…failure happens way more than success.”

Cynicism is her power play. To be chosen, you have to choose yourself first.  It was validating to hear that she uses a form of affirmations to declare who she wants to be in the world, as if she already was that person.  I have a similar routine that I do with two friends every morning: we text one another our daily affirmations to lift our spirits and declare our already-present greatness. I’ve done goal-writing, but to write goals starting with the end of your life and work backwards? Now that, Nely, changes everything.

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Edie Weiner

Edie Weiner, President and CEO of The Future Hunters, gave a mind-blowing talk about dignity and purpose. One surprising revelation is that in our future, honesty will be the highest valued trait. We are at the dawn of a new era, Civilization Alpha, creating life from non-life. 4-D printers will allow us to print things that can change form if you add another element, like water. This technology will change the future in airline security –  we will never know what is getting past TSA and aboard a plane.

Edie’s concern is that we are moving farther and farther away from focusing on sustaining technologies. Only 11 percent of technology is focused on agriculture. Not to side track, but it’s ironic that as I was writing this, CBS Sunday Morning had a segment on innovative farming tools, about gathering data on yield and fertility for predictive analysis. Edie’s book, FutureThink is my next read.

Michelle Robinson Obama

And of course, there was Michelle, who carried us through the Closing Keynote. Moderator, Helen Drinan asked Michelle thought-provoking questions that took us back to the Obama Administration, and up to what she is doing today. When asked about the current political climate, her diplomacy was humbling:

The arc of history is long. Going backwards is part of growth…
…we are here because we need to be here
.”

Regarding the outcome of the 2016 election: What’s going on inside of us that we are not embracing a woman as our president? When questioned about whether or not she or Oprah, would consider running for president, she remarked that she didn’t have the passion for politics. We should be seeking out women for their eagerness to serve for the People, versus on intelligence alone. It would have to be someone who could sort through all the multitude of ideas from advisors, and make the best decision that would be for the greater good.

Being First Lady, she was privileged to experience the world, which she saw from the back door. She didn’t get to see as much, and intends to revisit. Also, many of these places were typically cleared out, no signs of people, except who they came to see.

Mr. and Mrs. Obama are currently working on the Obama Presidential Center, in Chicago, with one of its charters to find the next generation of leaders. The former First Lady left us with these closing words:

“Be brave enough to own your own voices. Be okay with imperfections.
Be more tolerant. We are more alike than different.”

I could write for days about the other speakers, such as Gretchen Carlson, and Roopa Unnikrishnan, but I won’t. Instead, I will carry this motivating and extraordinary experience with me for years to come.

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Women of Impact Highlights

I wanted to share some highlights from the Women of Impact event that I attended on March 7, 2018, the day before International Women’s Day.

How often do we say or do something that makes someone feel not included?  Maybe more often than we care to admit. Bias happens, even with body language. I have bias when I’m walking down the street, alone, in a big city.  I might cross the street if I see a man approaching in a dark hoodie, for example.  Yes, I am just being precautious, many of you might say. Perhaps I could make intention that every engagement is going to be meaningful. Opening my heart more, even to strangers (of course with care), is going to make my world a happier place.

“In diversity, there is beauty and strength.”
– Maya Angelou

My head was spinning from the high dose of empowerment that I received at the WOI event. Impactful messages were coming at me from all sides: “Look in the ordinary and find extraordinary…”, “Work together for lasting change…”, “Be the change that you want to see.” One of the most powerful statements came from Rebecca Jacoby, our former CIO: “All success is built on self-awareness. Know yourself.”

I was completely enamored by the two young entrepreneurial women who shared their stories about how they are solving the world’s problems. Mary Elizabeth McCulloch, founder of ProjectVive, and Elizabeth Nyeko, co-founder of Mandulis Energy. The common thread was that they each were driven to help others over helping themselves. Mary Elizabeth’s company makes a speech generation device using bioengineering. She shared that while her sortie sisters were eager to start out in the workforce with their newly stamped degrees, all she could think about was giving a voice to people with disabilities. Elizabeth’s company is centered around agricultural engineering in Uganda, turning waste from rural farmers’ crops into electricity and cooking fuel. Elizabeth had been in medical school when the realization came that she could not be a doctor when there was no electricity in her village.

The afternoon session was entitled “Unconscious Bias,” facilitated by Rory Goldberg and Y-Vonne Hutchinsen. I had no idea there were so many layers to the meaning of bias: intersectionality (overlapping identities), prove-it-again, tight-rope (too feminine; too masculine); maternal wall; performance attribution; leniency, and like-me. I came away with a new appreciation for adopting more sensitivity with both verbal and non-verbal communication.

Empowered Women Change Lives

This is Rosalba. I was moved by her story of trust and triumph. Her story begins like many poverty-stricken people in Guatemala, a story, for many, that stays in an endless loop. Crowded wretched shacks shifting on the hillside, unsafe drinking water, lack of sanitation, and rampant uncertainty.

Then one day, the Women Empowered (WE) initiative formed a group in Rosalba’s village, and that changed her fate. Yet, Rosalba would have her own fears to conquer. First, she would have to garner up Herculean courage and strength to begin to trust others, in order to create a path to turn her obstacles into opportunities.

While most of you reading this are not living in such ghastly conditions, I would bet that at one time or another, you encountered barriers associated with advancing to the next level of your career, or higher education, not landing that job because of your gender or the color of your skin, or something else. Maybe you needed a little boost to get you motivated – a mentor. It’s that first step of asking for help that makes all the difference.

This week at my company, three very high-ranking women in the tech industry came to speak about their own hurtles across their careers – two from Cisco, and a third from Bank of the West.  Each shared their own story of triumph.

The outcome of one of the stories was a mentoring initiative, the Multiplier Effect that one of the women, Yvette, a Cisco SVP, birthed in the hopes of addressing the many women who were leaving the tech industry.  Yvette attributes her own career success to her many mentors, and to the people who believed in her. This gift of guidance she wants to share as a way to work the inclusion angle, not just for women, but any person of diversity.

It’s women like Yvette and the two other women who shared the afternoon with us  (Rebecca, Cisco SVP; and Linda, Bank of the West, SVP) who empower us to live to a higher potential, and women like Rosalba, who give us courage. Each of these women took their predicament and flipped it to seek a better outcome.

2017 Holiday Gathering at Red Bird

A BIG THANKS to our good friends (and family) who came to lend their helping hands. Orlando Rigueira, Donna DeLorenzo Rigueira, and Nora came an hour before folks started rolling in, to help with setup. Even earlier, Morda Scott came to finish decorations and furniture rearrangement for open flow.   

Our house on Red Bird was brimming with 55 or so guests, and a few kids. Some of the visitors penned entries in our memory book, in which we asked them to look back at their year and complete the sentence: “I am grateful for…..” With each passing year, our circle gets bigger. How did we get so lucky? 

Enjoy the pictures: https://photos.app.goo.gl/zKdvWI3rk2C2kSH42

Like No Time Has Passed Between Them

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Earlier this month, I had the great honor and pleasure to attended Glenn’s 50th Hickman High School class reunion in Columbia, Missouri. It was such a gift to see harmony, right before my eyes, between Blacks and Whites, in spite of a past dotted with uncertainty.  A class full with people from all walks of life: doctors, lawyers, dentists, a senator, business owners, CEOs, and others who just made the best of life, raising kids, some still living locally, and some retired. 

In the era following Brown vs. Board of Education (1954), students in Columbia, a small mid-Missouri town, braced for integration. Over the years, I have listened intently to lucid experiences shared by Glenn, whom at this point in history, was a young Black kid, with two brothers – ten and twelve years older than he. To hear the stories from his perspective shed a softer light on what could have been a more oppressive time, for some.

The three-day reunion kicked off day-one at Shakespeare’s Pizza; continued day-two at Hickman, where they planted a tree, toured the school and had a light lunch; and later a tailgate party at Cosmo Park, and concluding day-three at a ballroom in The Hampton Inn. I guess I was a teeny bit jealous because my High School class has had only one reunion, and that was in 1990, at my tenth. Hickman’s Class of 1967 have a reunion every five years. 

At Cosmo Park, organizers set up a big screen to watch a their legendary 1966 football game where Hickman ended Jeff City’s 71-game winning streak. Football was and still is really big in this town, also the home of the University of Missouri Mizzou Tigers.  

With a new tree planted, the tour of Hickman High began, and it was impressive for this first-time-visitor. The entry hall was lined with plaques and trophy cases, honoring alumnae. The late Major James E. Logan, Glenn’s oldest brother,  was named on one of the plaques honoring Vietnam veterans who died in the conflict.  During the library tour, I was astonished to learn that Hickman faculty promote their students to be more socially conscious of the history that is unfolding around them. The Class of ’67, in particular, was well-positioned to make an impact on how well race relations would be in the coming years. A time when you saw a person for their worth and warmth, and not the color of their skin.

At the evening gala, we eulogized deceased classmates, all 65 of them, by streaming each of their Senior class pictures on an overhead. At our table, all wept for the loss of such precious lives that touched many hearts.  Many died too young.  Some died in battle. Others since the last reunion. To call out a few of the recent deaths, Gary Warren, a cousin of Glenn’s, who died three years ago. And Eddie Gross, who shocked everyone by attending the 45th, the only reunion he had ever attended –  he passed away a few months later.

As the reunion came to a close, classmates warmly embraced one another, with only the highest hopes of seeing their smiling faces again in five years. With tomorrows not promised, we pray for peace and cherish these memories in our hearts.

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Building a Future for a Deserving Family

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Habitat for Humanity had been on my radar a long time.  I dreamt about helping to build one of those houses for years. The first two tries, I had work-related conflicts. This year, I just scheduled it – cleared my calendar, and took control. After the third try, I finally got a chance to participate in a build. The home would become the future “habitat” of the Hernandez family, a single mother with two boys.

Growing up in a family of handy-persons, there was always a lot of construction going on in our house.  This was different. With every swing of the hammer, every slap of the staple gun, every shot of the nail gun, we were creating a future for people we’ve never met. Inside these walls would be a family making memories. This Hernandez family’s future was literally being shaped by our very hands. This was significant and meaningful. I soaked up every moment, by moment. I was completely in my element.

I had a choice between siding and roofing. I chose siding. On my team were four workers (apprentices), and one team leader – three women, and two men.  Our leader, Kevin, was probably in his late 20s, Larry was in his 60s, Kelley in her 70s, and Nancy in her 30s. I was paired mostly with Kelley, from Mill Valley, California, who said she’d built at least 8 of these homes all around the world. Nancy came from New Jersey, and is a Controller for a beef jerky company.

I know my limits, and holding up a sheet of fiber-cement siding until someone could get it nailed in is one.  I know where I could add the most value, and that is probably during cleanup. While everyone was wrapping up in the last hour, I chose to sweep up the mounds and mounds of wood chips and sawdust inside the house.

Most of the 15 or so workers came via Global Village.  This was their week-long vacation, dedicated to accomplish a major feat, to meet some new people, and see new places. Half of the money they paid went to Habitat. Their costs included food and board for the week, a shuttle to take them to and from the site, and sightseeing.

My hope is to return in November, when the final touches are being added, trim, hardware, paint, and – yes – cleanup.

For your viewing pleasure, the Flikr album of the site, but I’m not in it.

Stay tuned!