Hammers & Heels

Habitat for Humanity Women Build event brings women onto the construction site.

Although they’re still noticeably in the minority, women are finding their way into more construction fields every year. Habitat for Humanity’s Hammers & Heels Women Build event allows women in other fields to get involved as well, doing everything from swinging the hammers to raising the funds to build the home.

Unlike many Habitat builds, the Hammers & Heels projects are led by chairwomen who bring in additional team captains. Each chair and captain does fund-raising and fills one volunteer date during the build.

Des Moines’ 12th-Annual Hammers & Heels Women Build is led by three chairwomen—Lauren Burgeson, Kelly Caldbeck, and Megan Caldbeck. The three women have been working since early this year to prepare for the build, which will be completed in the next few weeks.

“I first got involved with Habitat when my sister, Kelly, was a lead on a project in El Salvador,” says Megan Caldbeck. “I’d known about Habitat for a while, but Kelly was more involved. Since that trip, I’ve continued to do more.”

This year’s Hammers & Heels build has been a learning experience for Megan Caldbeck, who is chairing the event for the first time. “The fund-raising aspect was new to me, but the three of us who are chairing have a pretty broad group of contacts in the community. We all know different people and have worked hard to find different, new ways to get involved and to get the community involved,” she says.

The group has partnered with local businesses on various fund-raising activities and has made use of social media to promote the project, including regular updates on its dedicated Instagram account. The funds it’s raised go toward providing an affordable mortgage for the new homeowners.

According to Habitat’s Jenna Ekstrom, “We have 12 to 15 volunteer days over the course of the build, which usually takes about three months. In addition to having an average two volunteer days each week, we have professional contractors who come in to complete the specialized work as well.”

The home for the 2018 Women Build is located in the Birdland area on Des Moines’ north side. A split-level design, the home is one of 22 new homes planned for a formerly vacant space not far from parks and historic residential areas.

“One of the things I love about working on this project is that we’re not just building a house. We’re helping build a neighborhood. The home is close to parks. And the residential area ties into the ‘I Have a Dream’ Foundation neighborhood,” Megan Caldbeck explains.

According to Ekstrom, this attitude is one of the reasons Habitat values the Women Build projects. “These events empower women to come out and build,” she says. “Nothing is off-limits—they do just about everything.”

The first Des Moines Hammers & Heels Women Build, held in 2005, began when a group of local women sought to create a project similar to Habitat builds from other parts of the country. With this 12th event, participation has grown dramatically.

“The women who participate learn not only how to build a home but what they can do philanthropically. That’s an empowering thing, too,” Ekstrom says about the grassroots fund-raising event.

Megan Caldbeck agrees. “When you’re in the midst of everything, it’s exciting and frustrating, too. It takes a lot of time, and you have to learn to manage your time and all the details that go along with it. But it’s encouraging getting great feedback from everyone involved.”

She has made it out to the jobsite for every volunteer day so she can keep the Instagram account updated. “More often than not, I end up staying to work, too,” she says. “I can’t be there and not help out.”

The project was kicked off by volunteers from Professional Women in Building, who helped raise the home’s walls. The final volunteer date is scheduled for October 19, with professional finish work to take place soon after so the new homeowners can take possession this fall. Originally from Burma, the family has been in the United States for just five years.

Like all Habitat projects, the Hammer & Heels Women Builds make homeownership possible for families who might otherwise not be able to afford a home, breaking the cycle of poverty for many.

Since its inception in 1976, Habitat has helped more than 13 million people in the U.S. and nearly 70 other countries move into affordable shelter. The Hammer & Heels Women Build is one more step toward achieving Habitat’s vision of a world in which everyone has a decent place to live.