Home Repair through the eyes of volunteer Austin Brown
By Jessica Auer
If you ask Austin Brown about his favorite moment as a volunteer with Asheville Habitat, his answer might sound like a platitude: “they all are.” But that is not a brush-off. It’s not that all the moments blend together, either. In fact, Austin can probably give you a catalog of the last twenty jobs he’s been on.
Rather, it is a testament to what Austin likes so much about volunteering with the Home Repair program, which performs critical home repairs for Buncombe county homeowners with limited incomes. Namely: the ever-varied and always challenging nature of the work he gets to do.
There was that time the crew “painted the facia of a house on top of a hot roof dodging power lines.” What about when they dug the footers for a ramp “through roots and frozen ground?” Or when they had to wear hazmat suits to scrape the ancient (no doubt leaded) paint off a house? That time they “moved several tons of sacked concrete on our backs” or “crawled into an unbelievably tight space” to secure a water barrier under a mobile home.
There is no room for complacency in Home Repair; no sense of ‘same job, new place.’ Every house has settled differently. Every family has a different story. There is “always a new puzzle, a new bizarre twist, another ‘I’ve never seen that before,’” Austin says. The team might have built four ramps in the past two months, but every lot slopes in its own, very special way and, “yes, being off by a sixteenth of an inch can matter.” So, inevitably, they will have to put their heads together to calculate the exact right cut on their joists or the precise angle measure needed to level out the landing.
Home Repair is a lesser-known construction program with Habitat. Austin himself came upon it by happenstance. After moving to Asheville, he settled on Habitat for his volunteer “home base.” More and more, the volunteer slots that were open – “luck,” he calls it – were in Home Repair. Before long, Austin “was hooked.” But for Home Repair volunteers like Austin, the complexity that is built into each Home Repair job becomes part of the fun.
If it was luck that brought him to Home Repair, it is the camaraderie that has kept him there. The team is “my people, my family,” he says. That is a sentiment shared by the small but mighty Home Repair crew – staff and volunteers. When you’ve been through the muck together (sometimes literally), you develop “a deep sense of unity and purpose.” You’ve not only experienced those challenges together, you’ve overcome them through a team effort.
It also doesn’t hurt that Home Repair allows Austin to indulge his curious and adventurous nature. Their work takes them to all corners of Buncombe County, working beside “goats and chickens” one week and discovering an “interesting, quirky little neighborhood” the next. Every week is an opportunity to meet a new homeowner, each with a story to tell. For someone who loves meeting people, it is a great fit. On the flip side, for the Home Repair staffers, the genuine care, respect, and interest that volunteers like Austin bring to the homeowners, is deeply appreciated.
So, Austin doesn’t have a single standout moment he wants to talk about. It’s the total essence of the experience – the distillation of a million moments – that he wants people to understand. “Habitat is the highlight of my week,” he says. “I come home with my body sore and my heart singing.”
Interested in joining Austin on a home repair project? Click here to learn more and register for one or more volunteer days.