NEWPORT NEWS, Va. –
For Sgt. Austin Sturtz, a recruiter assigned to the Virginia Army National Guard’s Recruiting and Retention Battalion, the opportunity to support the local Habitat for Humanity’s “Raise the Roof” event in Newport News, Virginia, sounded like a great one.
“I was excited about the opportunity because I enjoy carpentry work and helping the community I serve in,” he said.
Sturtz, along with fellow recruiters Sgt. Patrick Luley and Sgt. Korion Hunt, met with Habitat and several other volunteers to help put the roof on a newly constructed house.
Habitat for Humanity Peninsula and Greater Williamsburg, a nonprofit organization, helps build homes for low-to-moderate income Virginia families in the cities of Newport News, Hampton, Poquoson, and Williamsburg as well as the counties of Charles City, James City, New Kent and York. Habitat strives to help families afford decent and reasonable housing.
Maerine Mitchell, Director of Volunteer and Community Engagement with the Habitat Williamsburg location helped organize the event with the Virginia National Guard.
“One of the biggest benefits of having the National Guard there, or any volunteer there, is that we're able to keep the cost of the house low for the homeowner,” she said. "It’s great, especially because the National Guard has skills and are hard workers."
Instead of bringing in a crane to perform the work, Habitat used the National Guard and other volunteers to help raise the materials to the roof. This helped minimize the costs to make the home more affordable for the new owner.
Luley said their job was to take the trusses for the roof and hoist them up for the contractors to tailor into place so they could put the roof on the house.
Paul Williams, the construction supervisor for Habitat who was overseeing the job, said it was a blessing to have such hardworking volunteers.
“It’s especially crucial for us to have able-bodied people that are willing to go up ladders and can lift heavy weights,” he said. “They did a good job getting the trusses up there and not dropping them. We couldn't have done this without them.”
“I would say the most difficult part was just kind of understanding what was going on and how it was going to all come together,” said Luley. “But everything fell into place.”
Sturtz said it was a little more than what he was expecting, especially because the work was outside the scope of his everyday duties.
“They used terminology that I did not understand; the contractors are talking about needing to build a “sister” on the roof,” he said. “Or they need me to cut a pitch angle using a simple square, which is something I never had to do.”
Sturtz explained he had previous carpentry experience, but putting on a roof was a new experience for him, and that projects like this one benefit the Virginia National Guard because they allow for Soldiers to take an even bigger role in the communities they live and work in.
“I felt excited, I felt like I had accomplished a great task,” he said. “I don't always get the opportunity to go out and volunteer, so, this was a good feeling to have, especially knowing that something great was being accomplished and that later down the road, a family is going to benefit from our hard work.”
When the recruiters were done with their shift, Hunt opted he was going to continue working with Habitat and some of the other volunteers.
“I really liked it. It was rewarding giving back to the community, especially as a National Guard Soldier,” said Hunt. “We live up to what we say we are. Whether we are building houses or helping people in snowstorms, we are always there for our community, for Virginia.”
All the Soldiers agreed that they wanted to continue their relationship with Habitat and that it was a great experience to meet people and learn something new while giving back to their community.
“We will need to keep our recruiting mission, first, but as time permits hopefully, we can go back once or twice a month to continue to help,” said Luley. “Either with this specific project or a different project that Habitat is doing. We definitely plan to continue our volunteer service in the community.”
Williams said it would be great to work with the Soldiers again and show them how to build a house from start to finish.
“We get caught up in our duties and in our own life,” Sturtz said. “Sometimes it's good to take a step back and help others, especially those who could utilize the help. It makes you want to be involved more and be a part of something bigger. Overall, it’s just a really great feeling.”