I may be turning 40 later this year, but arriving at Habitat for Humanity’s West Oakland workshop feels like my first day of school. I have some life changing relationships with Habitat South Africa in Cape Town thanks to 365 Ubuntu Climbs – but the slate’s clean here.
The same old mind games of nerves and demons like ‘will I be good enough’ to help coming up.
I’m put at ease immediately as Gus introduces himself and welcomes me to the workshop. It’s a place to volunteer with their Playhouse program, and has become my ‘Carpenters Apprenticeship’. I’ve always wanted to learn to work with my hands and specifically wood.
What better way than to learn while helping a company with its mission
‘We provide affordable homeownership opportunities to qualifying
households. To qualify, you must show a need for housing, be willing to partner with Habitat by contributing sweat equity in the construction of your home, and demonstrate the ability to pay.’
Handouts disempower. They’re give Hand Ups to start a new cycle of hope.
‘Our Playhouse Program is one of the many innovative fundraising tools we use to work with community volunteers to broaden our impact and empower more families through affordable homeownership. Playhouse volunteers spend a full or half day at our Oakland or Milpitas workshop, getting playhouses ready for assembly. Once completed by sponsoring groups, playhouses are donated to children through partnering organizations like Blue Star Moms. We provide all the tools and training necessary to put together the start of a child’s dream playhouse!
A circular economy of love.
Volunteerism’s taught me more than just carpentry – Gus’s been sneakily teaching me an important component of leadership that the world needs – heart.
Imagine running a company with a ‘staff turnover’ of 95%? And still achieving your objectives, seems unreal right?
And yet they continually achieve their aim to get Playhouse sets ready for corporate team builds (literally!) to raise money and build homes.
In 2018 they completed 550 in the Bay Area alone!
It’s a remarkable feat and I now understand how he leads this.
Nervously waiting to hear what I’ll be doing and already contemplating making a catastrophic mistake, Gus takes me and another volunteer through the full playhouse program, safety, who benefits and why it’s important. My heart center is immediately triggered, and I know I’m in the right place.
He leads us to a section with the sides of the playhouse laying on sawhorses, freshly painted from the morning shift.
Whew…. Painting – I can do that!
I’m quickly introduced to the ethos of the workshop when I see a massive spill of grey paint.
‘Don’t worry about that or about dropping paint yourself. If you do – our rule is simple: you have to make a heart with it’
What an amazing idea!! I instantly see five hearts in my vicinity. Such a simple but transformative way to turn mess into love. Lesson 1 and I’m not even an hour in, and a universal truth about leadership given right away.
I realise this now being back multiple times, Gus treats every new person with gratitude and appreciation taking time to explain everything in enough detail as needed to make people feel included in a finished product of purpose that few get to experience.
It was a simple task, painting; but I already felt great fulfillment as each stroke provided the base paint for future artwork.
Wanting to share my appreciation on what I’ve learned from Gus and his team made me think deeper than just highlighting surface reasons for their success; and creating another ‘follow this number of things’ list to be a successful leader.
There’s enough of those out there.
Communication, patience, gratitude, being an expert in your field and catalysing a team are all important components yes – and consistently demonstrated by him; but something extra special weaves them together.
It’s his heart.
It’s been a privilege to watch leadership like this in action which, week after week, brings complete strangers together at various stages of the playhouse life cycle – learning new skills and working together to produce a focused outcome.
Gus’s humour is brilliant and an effective way he ensures us adults enjoy the process as the children we building playhouses for.
‘Remember our critics are 3 feet tall – it doesn’t need to be perfect; just safe. Have fun with it!’
Below are some great pictures to show you the timeline in the life of a playhouse. Gus has ‘taken me under his wing’ and always shows me new tools to use and how easy it is to be safe using them.
‘Tools are not dangerous, but how we use them can be. Everything’s designed to keep you safe.’
I wonder. Is his heartfelt leadership molded by this tradesman’s understanding: A poor workman always blames his tools – to become such an effective leader? It could explain his care to transfer knowledge to newbies like me to optimise our output.
Together with his creations of templates means an incredible amount of time is saved because the template is always your reference point.
Side note – it’s amazing to see how much quicker I learn through action compared with old school memorisation.
I think Gus’s also mastered the art of ‘letting go’ of what he can’t control (like this fact: with every home built – 3 new people become homeless in the Bay area) His why is so strong it permeates throughout the workshop, and he doesn’t get phased by things not being ‘100%’.
WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT
The team builds* are always amazing. I particularly enjoy this nugget I always here:
‘Oh I’m not creative I won’t be able to draw or paint or be part of the art department‘
Every. Time. And I’m constantly blown away by the creativity and quality of Playhouses created and decorated according to the child’s chosen theme: Dogs, Space, Princess, Cars… you name it! Just look at the pics below to see for yourself.
Being at the builds mean I’ve met some of the families receiving the playhouses. It’s an experience too beautiful for words to capture on paper.
It feels like being in the presence of all the best qualities humans have to offer at the same time.
Seeing a parent tearing up at the sight of a playhouse created with love for their child by strangers? Their gratitude, smiles, love and appreciation are what sit with me as I cut each piece of wood for hours on end now. I know exactly what impact that small action leads to.
Sometimes the most rewarding work is not the most glamourous.
Perhaps if we all started treating our jobs and careers like this – wanting to learn and grow while impacting other people with love – there’d be less job dissatisfaction and people would feel more connected to one another?
Just a thought – and something I’ll keep promoting!
Another thought: to think this was all learned from doing something far outside my comfort zone.
FINAL THOUGHT TO PONDER
Feeling deflated by life? Pop down to your local ‘for purpose’ business and donate your time. I know Habitat certainly appreciates it. There’s nothing like perspective to put the wind in your sails again.
Mary Gates, Bill Gate’s mom, was an incredible woman. She set the tone for his upbringing by being on numerous NGO Boards and involving him. It’s no wonder he’s formed the Gates foundation with his wife Melinda .
She expresses the most beautiful truth at the end of his latest Netflix Documentary:‘When we have these specific expectations of ourselves, we’re more likely to live up to them. Ultimately, it’s not what you get; or even what you give.
It’s what you become’
*Team builds have up to 10 people per playhouse with each team being split into builders (4), roofers (3) & the Art Department (3) with everyone painting once initial jobs completed. Check out some pics below
Please contact Habitat for Humanity at teambuilding@HabitatEBSV.org to arrange your own purposeful team (real) build.