CLEARWATER — It was like an old-fashioned barn raising, only in the suburbs.
About 100 people came out in force Friday at this quiet neighborhood of newly constructed homes and neatly kept lawns near Sunset Point Road and North Betty Lane.
They hammered together wooden beams on the sidewalk and together raised up enormous roof trusses atop the concrete walls of two homes for this community’s newest members.
Freda Dixon and her teenage daughter will live in one of the houses. Friday morning, Dixon was wearing a hard hat and wielding a hammer — next Sunday, she’ll get the keys.
More than 300 volunteers will pitch in during the next week to rapidly transform this gray shell into a permanent home for the two, who have been forced from one apartment to another by rising rents.
The construction crew comes from businesses such as Publix and Home Shopping Network, which contribute money and labor to the local Habitat for Humanity’s annual Blitz Build, an accelerated version of the work done by volunteers all year.
In this subdivision, owned by Habitat Pinellas, Dixon’s immediate neighbors also are pitching in, just as she has helped put a roof on some of their homes as part of the 250 hours of “sweat equity” required of new homeowners in the nonprofit’s program.
“They were my hand up,” Dixon said of Habitat.
Volunteers also will be working in the next week to complete most of the work on another home for Christine Hubbard and Ronald Lappos, a couple who have watched housing costs skyrocket in a small mobile home even as constant flooding has created a host of maintenance problems.
When finished, Habitat volunteers will have built 30 new homes in the Stevens Creek subdivision, a formerly rundown public housing complex the nonprofit bought from the city to turn into a 51-home neighborhood.
More than 4,000 volunteers put in labor and expertise each year for Habitat Pinellas, but the annual Blitz event offers a chance to see quick results.
Habitat site supervisor Mary Miller travels with her husband each year from Chester County, Penn., to take part in the build.
The short time frame creates pressure as professional supervisors must knock out projects quickly while helping the inexperienced workers with the basics, but that’s one of the things Miller enjoys the most.
“That, to me, is really rewarding, watching the homeowner grow,” she said.
“Anything you sit there and you make with your own hands, you stand back and say, wow, I did that and had a part in it.”
While the construction schedule is rushed, these attractive block homes are built to last, with double-paned hurricane windows, energy efficient insulation and even solar water heaters on the roofs of many.
Dixon says the new home will mean stability after many years of hardship.
Her daughter lost her father and Dixon her mother 11 years ago within a matter of months.
Dixon fulfilled a promise to her late mother to ensure her younger brother and sister finished high school and, after that, continued to work and raise her own daughter, moving from one place to the next to make ends meet.
The day her new home is finished is her late mother’s birthday, a sign from God, she says.
“By the grace of God, he brought us through,” Dixon said.
“He brought me to this house.”