Building Hope: Truckee missionary group sets upon task of building homes
A small boy, dressed in a sweater and dirty slacks, walked up to Whitney Brixey, with a gift. A metallic pinwheel had been set inside a plastic flower pot filled with dirt, as if it had been planted as a seed, and now was in full bloom.
He flashed her a dashing smile, handed it to her, and ran away with some friends, who started making more presents for the other teenagers building a house in their neighborhood.
Brixey thanked her suitor and set the gift down to continue working on a wood frame that would become the roof of a house.
Maybe it was the sound of ten hammers going at once, breaking the intermittent screech of a nearby rooster, that attracted the neighborhood children. Or maybe it was the site of a dozen people, who were definitely not from their part of town, putting up a new home.
Whatever it was, by our second day of construction, they weren’t shy anymore.
Lupe and Sandra were the first to approach me. I asked their names, and thinking it might be fun for them, I put my camera strap around Sandra’s neck so she could look through the magnified lens. The next thing I knew, half a roll of film was gone.
Now it was Lupe’s turn. A roll of film or two was a small price to pay to see how much fun they could have with something most Americans think of as a necessity, sometimes even a burden.
Between rounds of measuring, cutting, measuring and nailing, Kelly Hayes, a junior at Tahoe Truckee High School, would take a break to practice her Spanish on the children.
“I love talking to the little kids,” Hayes said. “I ask them about school and they say, ‘Oh, Spanish is my favorite.'”
Putting up the walls, with the help of some locals
Putting up the frame of the house was a vacation compared to laying a foundation.
We had spent a good amount of time the day before cutting two-by-fours for the frame, so we didn’t have too much cutting to do.
The weather definitely redeemed itself as well. We were finally able to strip down to T-shirts, instead of the sweatshirts and rain jackets we had to wrap up in the day before.
Back at camp that night, I realized it was warmer than I thought – I had a sunburn.
The mud – which laid siege to one of our vehicles that morning – turned to packed earth again by mid-afternoon.
I spent the majority of the day at the Lagunes Aguilar house site, which was up a hill a bit from another home being built by our group of Truckee teenagers and fearless adult leaders.
Marina was at the site the previous day, hauling water for cement and watching the progress on her future home. Today, her husband, Faustino, 51, joined us.
Frustrated with an uncooperative nail, Faustino walked up to me, took my hammer and pounded the nail in with two swift hits. He motioned for more nails.
I was out of a job.
I later learned Marina wasn’t so bad with a hammer either.
“The lady we’re building for showed me how to take nails out of the wood,” student J.J. Besio said with a laugh. “I didn’t expect her to know how to do it.”
“[Marina] is really helpful. She has a great heart and she always has a smile on her face,” said 15-year-old Rachel Wilson.
One nail at a time
Lupe and Sandra, the budding photographers, started to get a little restless when the group started working, instead of playing. So they started asking for something to do.
Someone donated a hammer and a couple people took the girls to places on the frame where they could hammer in a few nails.
That day, before we left for our dusty camp, I glanced at Marina and Faustino, who were standing near their current house, a plywood structure half the size of the house we were building.
They had their arms around each other and were staring up at the frame that had just been completed.
I pretended they were imagining where they would put their things or who they would invite over when it was done and we had gone home to our microwaves and central heating.
Although not complete yet, they could see their home coming together, one nail at a time.
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