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I'm on the construction board and have volunteered occasionally at builds.
Others' experiences are not representative. In my area, the chapters ("affiliates") in several nearby counties are quite different in many respects. You need to go hang out with them for a while and make up your own mind on what, if any, involvement you want.
Edit: I don't build new buildings for a living, so it's kind of cool to go do something different, and they're very happy and grateful when they get pros at volunteer wages :) I remember one time when they were decking a house and it was going well but very slowly. That's because there was only one guy who was willing to use an air gun, quite reluctantly, and in single fire only. He very gladly handed me the gun, I put it on bump fire and let 'er rip, and we all went home early.
In my area they have a Demo crew I used quite often when I was doing an apartment building rehab. During the summers they had a crew of about 10-15 high school kids who would just take the whole place apart, Old appliances, Cabinets, trim, old carpet, switch covers, you name it.
I have not worked on one personally but have heard some of the same things mentioned above. Each group is different. When they first got here in St Louis on weekends when there was an abundance of volunteers there were no nail gun used. They wanted to make sure everyone had a job so everyone grabbed a stud and nailed them in place by hand. Even plywood was nailed on by hand. I have been told that has changed at least for plywood on big build days.
Now they have year round build work with a large warehouse where they prefab the walls and then haul them to the jobsite. Just like the factories it keeps folks and materials out of the weather. And they have teamed up with the local community college for a bunch of classes. I have seen about 6 different ones and the cost is under $25 per class. I believe you have to take the beginning safety course and pass before you can show up to work now. But they will have classes on framing, window installation, cabinets, drywall.
I think they used to be one of the biggest home builders in the USA or maybe the biggest non profit home builder. Of course, how many other non profit home builders are there out there?
Stories ? Thoughts ? Experiences ? Good / Bad / Ugly ?
All 3, mostly good and nothing from the latter two that you should't expect to find from/in any vol group. As others have said it depends on the local org/leadership and who comes in to vol, and on occasion local politics though that' largely diminished with age. Used to be a lot of folks afraid of "weeds" even if they were cross town. You really have 4 ways/levels to be involved, besides direct cash so go on in and talk with the local office folks and see what coming up and where/how you might [want to] fit in. One of my sparkies met his wife who was helping him pull wire one day... said that was the last thing she ever volunteered for.
Donald on the basis of his net worth valuation-
"...feelings, even my own feelings, and that can change rapidly day to day"
I've had really great experiences with HfH. You have to wan tto work with volunteers and move slowly. But it can be a great way to see other things and meet other builders.
On the downside, I have been put in a position of working under some old guy who volunteers regularly but wouldn't let me use the miter saw--he wasn't sure I was qualified. Like being 12 and working for your cranky grandfather.
Call the local affiliate, talk to them. Try it one day, see what the vibe is like. Some are very religious, some not, etc
As said already, it varies greatly from one chapter to the next. Several of the chapters down here won't even talk to you as an individual- they only want to deal with large groups who are bringing in 10 or 20 people for a work program. I applied to four chapters here, offering to get involved in any way possible- B&G committee, supervision, labor, whatever- one didn't call back, one said they had plenty of workers but could use money, and the other two didn't want to deal with me unless I was bringing a crew of folks with me.
Hey, if you want 20 inexperienced knuckleheads instead of one guy who knows what he's doing, go for it- I'll find better places to spend my time.....
Sad to say my experience with HFH was nasty, brutish and short. Several snobbish personalities, work days where no one showed up, very shabby quality. But I have heard about much better experiences in other areas. On one HFH house the volunteers were from all over the country. It seems some people make it their "career" to travel to HFH build sites.
Never worked for HFH. But, I went away 2 years ago through my church to volunteer. It was teenagers working on needy families homes. They send a crew of about 5-7 kids, an adult leader and a contractor or two depending on the job to make sure it got done correctly and safely.
I loved it. The kids were great, and luckily I got a very thankful family to work for. I received a list of work to be done prior to arrival. But, once I got there, I had some liberty to fix whatever I could within reason (and cost).
We worked for 5 days and got a fair amount done. Like most volunteer work, slow pace. But, they really wanted me to teach the kids even if it took twice as long.
Now with kids of my own, it's a little harder to go away for a week.
If you guys had poor experiences with HFH, then what other organization have you looked into, with reference to the same type of volunteer work? or, did you just not try anywhere else?
Try finding a Rebuilding Together group to work with. Again it varies from place to place. They are mostly a volunteer group but instead of new homes their goal is to keep the folks living in the house they have. Fix it up and make it safer, more comfortable, improve the looks of it.
Some are really big on exterior work, some interior, some only focus on painting and cleaning the yards from what I understand.
Here is how it has worked for me for 14 years. I am assigned a house and homeowner to work with. These homeowners have been thru screenings to see things like if they own the house, need it fixed up, cannot afford to do so, may have a disability, may not have family to help out. Most over the years are widows, many who have been in the houses for years with it slowly going down hill like their health. Once I am given the house I meet with the homeowner, make a list of jobs that she would like done, a list of jobs that I think we can do, write up a work scope and give it back to the organization. Our program is a huge one day work day with often 20 to 30 people on a worksite that I am in charge of. On my team I know about half of them so know what some of their abilities are. The rest I do not know. The organization then gives me a budget which is almost never as much as I asked for so I then meet again with the homeowner and we decide if we can forgo painting the back bedroom but give her a new kitchen faucet or a high seat toilet. Then once that is settled I make a final list, set up the job and on a set date (May 1 this year) 30 or so folks show up and we are like ants on a piece of candy. Jobs include everything from painting, grab bars in bathrooms, faucets, sinks, toilets, cleaning inside and out, hand rails on steps, lights, ceiling fans, flooring, toilets, etc.
Lots of work but very rewarding. Part of what I like is that it is one day for the volunteers. It is not a job that they may show up and build a bunch of walls but never see the finished product unless they continue to come back. They get there, see the need, when they leave the need has been met and they know they have made a difference. The idea of a before and after photo is very real for these folks.
Again, it is not for everybody. On most of my jobs I often call on guys like we have here that I know I could put on a ceiling fan and know that they will not shock themselves or burn the house down. I put a guy on cleaning the gutters that I know is not afraid of heights. Others I put in charge of a group of people painting a room or what ever the job is. But you do work with some volunteers that have no idea what they are doing. Some are there because their parents make them, they have to do it for a school community service day, etc and they do not really want to be there. Then there are others who want to learn and continue to do the jobs. I have one young lady that came and worked on my team 2 years in a row, did whatever was asked but also asked to be taught how to use a few tools. She now has been in charge of a home for a couple of years and is doing very well running a job for the group. She brings in a bunch of other ladies with her and their boyfriends and spouses and adopt the homeowner. They often go back the next weekend feeling they just "have to do a bit more and then it will be even better".
I like it and for me it is one of the ways I can give back to someone else. I do not really seem to have the money to give to someone but I have the ability to do some work for folks that cannot get it done any other way. I have also been a huge fan of us taking care of our own instead of always helping other countries (still do but I cannot travel to another country at this time) so this is my being nice to folks who need a hand. I am using my talents as best I know how at this time.
Long way to tell you to look up Rebuilding Together isn't it.
I've been on-and-off active with my local chapter. Been on the jobsite with my crew, served on a project's steering committee for about a year. The construction manager there used to work for me, so it's personal as well. But I do think you need to try them out. You probably don't want to be there when a volunteer crew is there - may want to ask if there's a project they could use a pro for. They'll pay you $1 to get rid of the volunteer liability, then you can show up with your nail gun and get something done.
Or serve on a board. It was fun, educational, and on a mercenary level I made some great contacts.