Craftswomen raise the roof for Habitat for Humanity’s Women Build program

Carmen Marxen, 21, helps to install foam insulation on a Habitat for Humanity Women Build House on Saturday. - Lynsi Burton/staff photo
Carmen Marxen, 21, helps to install foam insulation on a Habitat for Humanity Women Build House on Saturday.
— image credit: Lynsi Burton/staff photo

When Maria Flesher tiled her own bathroom floor last week, it was a symbolic victory.

A year ago, she would have hired a professional to do to the work. But now, trained as a Habitat for Humanity Women Build volunteer, she can do it herself, not to mention help build entire homes.

Since joining the Women Build program last year, she has learned all the skills needed to construct new houses for low-income families and is now recruiting and teaching the techniques to women who come to construction sites as rookie builders. She is now assisting with the construction of an East Bremerton home, the second Women Build house in Kitsap County.

“It’s totally changed my life,” said Flesher, of Bremerton. “It just makes you feel good to do your own things and just depend on yourself.”

Though women make up about half of Habitat for Humanity volunteers, 15 percent of them are actively involved in construction, said Sheila Marie, development associate at Habitat for Humanity of Kitsap County. Most women perform office work for the organization.

The purpose of Women Build, which finished its first project in Kitsap in 2008, is to put more women on the work sites by offering a series of free workshops that help build their confidence before starting construction work, Marie said.

Now the women know craftsman skills many men don’t know.

”Many women are a little reticent about going out to a work site without having much knowledge,” she said.

But with six different free clinics offered at the Lowe’s Home Improvement stores in Silverdale and Bremerton, women can become more confident builders and take their skills to their own homes in addition to the Habitat for Humanity projects, Marie said.

Debbie Marxen of East Bremerton used to depend on her husband to perform household work. But after taking five of the building clinics, she has learned the basics of construction and now helps with the Women Build house every Saturday. She also takes her 21-year-old daughter, Carmen, with her.

“I never thought I would be raising the roof, putting up the trusses and doing all that,” Marxen said Saturday at the work site, wearing her new tool belt and hammer. “I’m just proud of myself for climbing through the roof.”

Poulsbo resident Lori McClanahan said that after many years as a community volunteer, Women Build is the project that made her the most excited to pitch in. She hasn’t taken the classes at Lowe’s, but she has received on-site education from other builders and now uses skills she otherwise would not have known, such as framing a wall and putting up siding.

“This has just given me another level of strength,” McClanahan said.

Shelby Mox, the future owner of the East Bremerton Women Build house under construction, said that owning a house built mostly by women gives it a special meaning for her. She herself never thought she could climb in the scaffolding and swing a hammer.

“It’s been great to see how empowered everyone can be,” Mox said.

Flesher said that Women Build gives women more than the ability to use a power tool — it gives them a boost of independence and allows them to share their skills with others.

“It’s just unbelievable to see how much these women learned and how much they get out of Women Build,” Flesher said. “It’s not just about building. It’s about the community and what you can offer to someone else.”

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