From Partnership to Homeownership

Whitney Jett is a NOAHH partner family who started her partnership in June 2016. NOAHH will be following her story through the entire partnership and hopefully beyond. Part 7 is about her further experiences doing sweat equity on the build site. For previous parts, click here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4Part 5, and Part 6.

“The second day was a lot easier.”

Whitney Jett brought her mom Yolanda and a family friend, Crystal, to site with her later in the fall. She continued working on site on America Street, not far from where her new home will be built, helping to build the community she will soon be a member of.

“We mostly cleaned up the inside,” she said. “This was the last day on that house, doing final finishing touches. I had wanted to work on a new house. I wanted to move on from that one since we had already been there the last time, and I saw they have one that’s on my block. That’s the new one they’re doing. For a second, we had to double check the addresses, ’cause for a second, I really did think it was my house when I drove through there. So we ended up going back and forth because the other one wasn’t ready for volunteers to start working on it. We went back and did some cleaning and we were clearing material out of the rooms, sweeping, mopping, clearing the windows, and they had paint everywhere.”

In the newer build, she helped install insulation, adding another skill to the list of things she’s learned on the work site. She and a volunteer worked with a machine called a hopper, which blows the insulation into the attic. NOAHH uses volunteer-friendly, environmentally-conscious denim insulation donated by Cotton, Incorporated, one of the affiliate’s longtime partners. While her mom and Crystal helped clean the house (and Whitney took notes on what to expect when her own home was under construction), she made sure the home was insulated. Along with a more efficient air conditioning system and other features, all NOAHH homes are designed to keep energy costs down.

“The insulation was actually much better [than cleaning],” she said. “If it was more towards the summer, it would have been a lot worse, but it was actually kinda ventilated enough,. I don’t know how to explain that, but it actually wasn’t that bad. I’m afraid of heights, so getting up and down that ladder was the hard part, but it wasn’t that bad. I wasn’t up there for very long. [The hopper] is really a box with little rotators at the bottom, and it’s breaking down the packed insulation into these small little things. It just blows everywhere in the attic. We got to see how that worked out. I’ve seen it before, because I worked at Lowe’s before, but I never knew what it did, how that worked. It can be a pain in the butt if the tubes don’t stay on, though.”

She also worked on fencing and found one of the volunteers was something of an expert and saw first-hand how important volunteers are to the home-building process. While she was inside, exterior improvements were rapidly underway.

“I went outside and helped some ladies from the FBI finish the chain link fence,” she said. “I was so happy. I was like, ‘oh, that’s what holds this thing in place. It doesn’t take much at all.’ I don’t know who she was, but there was a lady who just knew how to put up a chain link fence. She was a volunteer. She was just, ‘All right, you put this here and you wrap this, all right, hold this tight, and then snapping it in place. Okay. That’s it.’ ‘That’s it?’ She made it sounds so easy. They didn’t have as many [volutneers] this time as they did last time. It was a few short of last time, but it wasn’t as crowded as it was last time. It was a perfect number. I think last time, it was medical students from Tulane; this time it was an FBI group there mostly women, about six of them. The whole group took care of most of the fencing by themselves. That was awesome.”

By bringing family and friends with her, Whitney is speeding up the completion of her sweat equity hours. Every hour her family or friends work on site while Whitney is there working with them counts toward her sweat equity. With two people on site with her for an eight hour shift, Whitney earned 24 hours of sweat equity. All partner families can bring up to three people with them at a time. Getting people to come spend some time on a build site, however, isn’t always easy.

“I do have to kinda drag [my mom] out the house, but once she gets there, she’s fine,” Whitney said with a laugh. “It’s the whole concept of ‘you have to do work today and you’re coming with me.’ I do have to drag her out a little bit. Crystal on the other hand, she’s like when are we doing this again? She’s just ready to go. I need you! She loves it. She’s gonna come back forever. ‘Cause that’s the one thing, after the first day, it was like, ‘we gotta go back another day, and [my mom and stepfather were] like, ‘I don’t even know,’ ’cause that’s the hard part. Getting them to come back when they actually have done some real labor.”

“I lost a couple on my way,” Whitney said. “I can’t bring my grandma. She helped me at the store, but she can’t help me on site. We tried to bring my mom’s friend out there. She spent that day with us, and she didn’t wanna go back after lunch. I had to convince her to go back after lunch. Then the next day, I was in so much pain. We’re trying to get groceries out of the car, and my mom drops something on the ground. She asked me to pick it up, and I can’t. ‘I’ve been putting down flooring all day. I can’t!’ Hopefully I can get my coworkers to come join me on site, too. Hopefully they’ll put in on my hours so my mom can take a break one weekend.”

While partner families must be present on site for their friends and family’s work to count toward their sweat equity, they don’t have to share tasks.

“Crystal mainly stuck with whatever my mom was doing,” Whitney said. “I kinda would separate and do whatever. They were mainly cleaning the bathroom. Meanwhile, I’m sitting at this stainless steel sink, picking at it with my fingernails, scrubbing some more with the rag. And we sat there forever. Just a little bitty specks of paint.”

“I looked at [NOAHH site supervisor] Alyson, ‘Don’t let them do this in my house. Don’t let them use the sink,'” she added, laughing.

A crucial part of the program is the connection between partner families and volunteers. Because partner families are active participants in our program, they’re often best able to explain it to others, and their presence is significant reminder of why volunteering with Habitat matters. Sometimes, volunteers are already familiar with the program, but still seek to connect with future homeowners on site. Whitney found that her mother Yolanda was more than ready to talk about the program.

“They knew what the program was about already,” Whitney said. “That was I guess why they decided to come and help out. They were already aware of the general part of it. They got to asking most of them just wanted to know where my house was. That’s what they wanted to know. My mom is the one who gets excited the most. She’ll say, ‘yeah she’s getting it with no interest!’ She goes into the whole rant almost about how she wishes it was hers. ‘She don’t have to worry about PMI. She don’t have to worry about none of that.’ Okay mom, let’s get back to what you were doing.”

As with every site, there are AmeriCorps members and NOAHH staff present to ensure volunteers have clear guidance. Because she has focused on the neighborhood where her home will be built, Whitney has worked mostly with NOAHH site supervisor Alyson Harding. She has found Alyson’s style has suited her.

“I love it. They know what they’re doing and that’s fine,” Whitney said. “Alyson is gonna check in before you’re done. You have to make sure she looks at it. She’ll tell you if you’re done, because she’ll tell you if you did it right, ’cause I don’t know what I’m doing. Even something as simple as blowing insulation in an attic, I’m down stairs filling the hopper, looking up, feeling good. I think I’m done. Alyson is like, ‘nope, you’re not done. One more bag.’ She gives a little more context to why we’re not done, and she’ll say, ‘see here, you want it to be this high. This is good, but the more insulation is better for the homeowner.’ She puts a lot more context into the project, what we’re looking for, but she’s not gonna sit there and babysit us. The context made sense. She made it make sense, especially the flooring. This is why you want to do it this way, because this will make it easier. Then she’ll actually demonstrate it. Then she’ll say ‘see how that happened?’ ‘We’re doing it that way from now on.’ She’s good at teaching. At some time, though, we gotta make sure we got it right. So she’s gonna sit there and babysit us just long enough to make sure we know this, and then she’ll back off. She’ll let us do our thing. She’ll come in and check on us and say all right good job and then leave. She’s monitoring everything that’s going on and there’s several projects going on.”