Get a Little Dirty

When I started working at Habitat for Humanity, I wanted to gain a full understanding of all aspects of the organization’s operations.  As such, I showed up to work alongside Habitat volunteers on a home construction site during my first week on the job.

I showed up on the build site and was quickly evaluated by the volunteer crew leader who asked me a series of questions about my familiarity with various tools and previous construction experience. After the informal assessment (that revealed my complete lack of knowledge about construction), the crew leader assigned me to join the team of volunteers working outside.

Still eager and excited to volunteer to help build the Habitat for Humanity home, I met the outside team leader.  He handed me a shovel and instructed me where to dig up dirt, pointed me to the wheelbarrow, and also the spot where I was to dump the wheelbarrows full of dirt.  Did I mention that it was over 100 degrees and sunny that day?  Shoveling and moving dirt quickly became a very strenuous task.  Although it required little to no skills, it was very physically demanding in the heat, and was not the most exciting job on the build site.

Needless to say, I got more than a little dirty that day.  I left the build site with blisters on my hands, sore feet and dirt-filled shoes.

Four months later, I arrived back at the same site where I shoveled dirt.  Except this time, it was for the dedication of the house to the new homeowner.  Habitat for Humanity would hand over the keys to the homeowner for her new home. I arrived a bit early and awaited the arrival of the new homeowner.

When the new homeowner arrived, she pulled her vehicle up in the driveway, got out of the car, and then with a smile from ear to ear exclaimed, “That’s the first time I’ve ever pulled up in my own driveway!”

So, yes – it was definitely worth getting a little dirty that hot summer day to see the joyful smile on her face when she stepped out of her car and onto her new driveway for the first time.  It was obvious that she was elated to drive on her new driveway, and it was a privilege for me to know I had helped make it happen for her.

But, it was also a lesson to me as to the importance of the organization’s leaders to step out of the office and get involved in the core work that fulfills the organization’s mission. As nonprofit leaders, there are always more reports to file, more grants to write, and more donors to reach out to, lets face it – I’ve never left the office with everything crossed off my to-do list.  And sometimes, that can get a little overwhelming.

So, next time you are overwhelmed by administrative work, make some time to witness your mission in action.  In my line of work, those are the days I get a little dirty, and they always remind me why I love my job.

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About Dr. Sarah Wolin Mackey

Putting theory into practice at nonprofit organizations.
This entry was posted in Habitat for Humanity, Nonprofit Management, Volunteer and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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