Lending a hand from Tennessee

Latest Habitat for Humanity project headed by retired prof

Posted: Tuesday, June 12, 2001

It took a few years for retired Tennessee college professor Bob Field to get into what he calls the "Habitat for Humanity mode." But this summer he's fully engaged near Thunder Mountain, overseeing construction of the affordable housing group's latest Juneau project.

"You know how a lot of times your parents talk to you and you don't really pay attention? Way back in the 1960s, my parents were friends of Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat," said Field. "They'd talk about it, and I was probably going 'uh-huh, uh-huh,' and not really paying attention - but it must have been sinking in."

In 2000, Field's church decided to undertake a Habitat house and he headed up the project, showing others how to contribute energy, muscle and good will. He was hooked on the nonprofit, ecumenical Christian organization that builds simple, affordable housing for those in need who can pay back mortgages.

Field was a professor of technical theater for 28 years - building sets, doing lighting and rigging, constructing scenery, where he honed his construction skills. These skills made it possible for him to take on the role of construction supervisor for the local Habitat affiliate's home project on Kanat'a Deyi Street, next door to an identical single-story house begun last year. The other house is known as a "women's build" because only women, including First Lady Susan Knowles, are wielding the tools.

"When people come out to work, I show them what to do and train them. I show them how to swing a hammer because a lot of people have never done this before," he said.

Working on the Juneau Habitat project has been slow going, Field said. "It's been kind of lonely out there, and it's not efficient. The more people I get, the more efficient I can be," he said.

Arriving four weeks ago, Field will stay a total of 12 weeks.

"By the end of this week, the walls will be up, and the roof will go on next week. Then when we have lovely Juneau rainy days, I can go inside and work," said Field, who outfitted himself in Helly Hansen rain gear and boots in order to work six days a week rain or shine.

On Saturday and Sunday, Field was joined by 15 teen-age gospel singers from Athens, Ga., who helped frame walls.

When he returns to Knoxville, he'll join about 125 church members to work simultaneously on two Habitat houses. With all that help, "We will be able to build them in six weeks, totally finished, and folks can move in."

Field retired, he said, to give himself time to participate in Habitat and help take care of his youngest granddaughter, who is 10 months old.

The city has donated the land for all three Juneau Habitat projects, the first of which was built in 1998. Because labor is donated, each house costs about $45,000 in materials. The homeowners awarded a residence must meet low-income requirements and contribute at least 500 hours of sweat equity. Interior construction is still going on at the home of Alfred Votion and his son Shawn, the "women's build" next door to the project Field is supervising.

Sharon Pratt and her four kids - Jason, 15, Natasha, 14, Brandi, 12 and Zachary, 11 - will move in when the latest house is done. An employee of Juneau Works, a division of the nonproft group Reach, Pratt is a job coach for clients with disabilities.

Being chosen to live in a Habitat house is "a miracle; that about sums it up," said Pratt, 33, who has lived in Juneau since 1989.

"I have been a single parent for so long and have tried all kinds of different agencies. We are thrilled," she said. "Jason and I are volunteering hours out there, and we're really grateful to the other volunteers and the community."

Residents interested in helping should call the Habitat Hotline at 789-1417 to learn the schedule and what skills are needed. They can also call volunteer coordinator Susan Moreland evenings at 790-2177.

Tax-deductible contributions can be sent to Habitat for Humanity - Greater Juneau Area at P.O. Box 21485, Juneau, 99802.

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at achandonnet@juneauempire.com.

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