Habitat for Humanity: Leading the R(Heart) Way

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.

The number 1 rule & reminder of why we here

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.

EXCEEDING EXPECTATIONS

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.

HEART FOCUSED

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’    

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*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.

Final Assembly putting the walls together, and attaching the roof

Putting the Shoe on the Other Foot

give

There are many people ‘climbing’ their own personal mountains daily.

Today I want to transport you into the world of three people and what life is like for them; feel their daily climb.

The big difference: they can’t see the summit like an ordinary mountain so have no idea how much further there is to go.

The purpose isn’t to make anybody feel bad; nor guilty. These are wasted emotions and are signs you’re focusing on the wrong part of the equation. In fact, you should feel inspired and full of hope. The smallest actions combined with consistency can transform lives, landscapes and entire generations.

Sticking your head in the sand is one of the reasons people feel so isolated and disconnected. It’s better to know the truth and feel empowered to do something about it; than pretend nothing’s wrong and keep doing what you doing (because you can’t hide from truth no matter how isolated you make yourself)

We’re all one and working together for the benefit of all mankind is crucial and it’s where our path to ultimate peace starts.

You doubt donating R50 a month will make a difference? I’d like to put the shoe on the other foot and at the end – you tell me if that still rings true.

The following three stories all take place on the same day from different perspectives.

The Cursed Blessing

Having been in the grip of a terrifying water shortage, you’d think that the onset of Cape Town’s rainy season would be welcomed by everyone. This Tuesday saw the fifth straight day of torrential rain as the second massive cold front battered the cape of good hope.

Good hope.

That’s all Jackie was holding onto as strong winds decimated shacks all around her in the Joe Slovo informal settlement, an area with roughly 146 000 ‘houses’ – none of which have their own toilets or running water. Everything is communal.

With torrential rain and gusts of wind whipping through the shacks a simple task of going to the toilet becomes extremely dangerous dodging missiles.

These storms always bring fresh fears of flooding and destruction to these fragile homes. While those living in standard homes made of brick dance in the streets, Jackie’s street is starting to look more like an offshoot of the Atlantic ocean – with every centimeter of water rising, her heart beat rises in unison.

With such few valuables already, losing more yet again feels like a cruel punishment with no crime.

How I would give anything for four sturdy walls around me right now.

On Death Row committing No Crime

Jack used to whoop with joy when it rained like this. Back in the days when he could put on his wellys and splash about in the streets celebrating one of the planets ingredients for life: water.

Those days feel an age away. Isolated in his hospital room, his only ‘access’ to the outside world for the past few months have been his window, tv and visitors allowed in one at a time.

Your body’s at it’s most vulnerable during treatment of leukaemia and the greatest threat is infection of any kind. Quarantine starts to feel more like prison than treatment.

Being cooped up in a single room was starting to take its toll on Jack and thoughts of whether a final walk down the corridor to death was not an easier option, started drifting into his head. This was no way to ‘live’. Even though he felt weak from all the medication and treatments – he would give anything to be outside. Feel the rain against his skin. Smell the freshness in the air. See water flowing on the streets instead of down his window.

If only I could be outside.

A Dire Future

While rain was relieving many peoples panic of the immediate future, Jessica’s thoughts were further down the line.

Her daughters adult life.

She may have be watching her play outside but her thoughts were rooted in the future.

Every parent wants the absolute best for their children. Especially when it comes to education. Jessica grew up in a time when, just because of the colour of your skin, you were dictated to get the bare minimum in education. She vowed that would never happen to her daughter.

She was feeling distressed as barely a few weeks into her daughters schooling the teachers hadn’t received any materials to start teaching the children to read. No books. No educational material. Nothing.

Panic gripped her heart as the teacher looked dejectedly up at her from behind her glasses. Like dying of thirst with nothing but sea water around.

She felt like she’d been preparing for a tennis match only to arrive and being told you playing water polo.

By some small miracle – if only the school had help to teach all these children to read.

…………………………………………………..

You just read that. In fact, 80% of children in South Africa at grade 4 level can’t read this. THAT. Does not bode well for our future.

What kind of workforce will we have in twenty odd years?

Just because we are not responsible for the problems of today does not mean we can’t help with the solutions of tomorrow.

I learned this recently which, I think, is important to remember. Past mistakes (no matter how far back) give us clues as to what lies in wait for our future.

Most people know the story of the Great Library at Alexandria; it rivaled our modern day internet with knowledge and scrolls from every corner of the globe – a truly impressive collection: for the few.

Maybe most of you know it was burnt? How many know it was set alight by the masses kept out from the library? Excluded from having access to all the knowledge at that time?

Knowledge is and should be free to all to have access to. Educated minds are inquiring minds.

I don’t know about you but I want to live in a country where everyone has the freedom to expand their minds – just by picking up a book.

We can help make this happen together.

I want to live in a country where we do everything we can to provide people with the basic right to safety and access to their own toilets.

We can make that a reality together.

I want to live in a country where everybody is a donor for leukaemia (and organ donors too!) to help those who contract the disease have a second chance at life.

Now – tell me with certainty R50 a month doesn’t make a difference?

Be part of the movement.

Believe.

Giving

Andrew Patterson is climbing Table Mountain every day in 2018 to do his part for social upliftment. Building homes with Habitat for Humanity; Empowering schools with One Heart for Kids and increasing the Leukaemia database with The Sunflower Fund. There is no amount too small (whatever number you thinking about imagine the other thousands of readers thinking the same thing – it adds up quickly) You can pledge your support at:

https://www.backabuddy.co.za/365-ubuntuclimbs