PATERSON, NJ - More than 50 women exchanged their heels for work boots, traded briefcases for tool belts, and left the confines of the office or courtrooms they expertly practice their craft in for a construction site as they descended on the city’s Fourth Ward Friday as part of Paterson Habitat for Humanity’s 2019 Women Build.
Together, the lawyers and legal professionals of Price, Meese, Shulman, and D’Arminio, P.C., joined by several others that have worked alongside them during the firm’s 25-year history, were hammering, sawing, measuring, and digging, as well as many other tasks usually associated with “man’s work,” transforming the lives of three Paterson families through the construction of homes along one stretch of Hamilton Street.
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Paterson has a long history with the Women Build initiative, Barbara Dunn, the organization’s executive director said recalling that the first homes built by women in New Jersey were in the city 20 years ago. The benefits of participating are mutual, the long time dynamic advocate for home ownership added, saying that it helps to “build communities” while the volunteers also “gain invaluable skills to bring back and use in their everyday life.”
The work of Habitat for Humanity, and its volunteers, is more important than ever she said as there are “more dramatic stories than ever regarding the lack of affordable housing,” including families having to make a “harsh choice” between illegal units or living on the streets.
Among the soon-to-be homeowners on site was Ruth, originally from the Dominican Republic who said that owning a house is every immigrant’s dream when they come to America. The mother of four got emotional as she spoke of her children having to sleep in hallways and other unsuitable living spaces just to keep a roof over their heads.
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“Thanks to you I have a house,” she said, proudly telling TAPinto Paterson that she has already completed her 400 hours of service to Habitat, one of the requirements on the path to purchasing a home. Her children, ranging in age from 14-22 have also felt the impact of the support from volunteers they’ve never met, Ruth said. “They see others coming to help them, now they want to help others.”
For Ruth also it wasn’t just the ability to buy a home that Paterson Habitat for Humanity left her with, it was also a feeling that others really do care. “They are wonderful people,” she said, her eyes welling up again. “They receive you like you’re a person, with respect, with humanity.”
Joining the team of volunteers who were said to have given up a day of “shattering glass ceilings to install ceilings,” was Paterson First Lady Farhanna Sayegh who thanked them on behalf of her husband for helping to “transform a neighborhood.”
“You can see the blight, the abandoned homes,” in a city were 29 percent of residents are said to live at or below the federal poverty level, she said, her husband stepping up to the microphone moments later calling the women “transformers.”
“Thank you for changing the narrative in Paterson,” Mayor Sayegh concluded.
With the speeches over it was time to get back to work and four women, Eileen, Dawn, Dorothy, and Devan stood waiting for their next assignment. Asked about the reason for their efforts, and the impact they were having, all four said it felt good to be making a difference.
Considering the significance of it being a female dominated worksite Devan thought for a moment and added “it’s powerful to lift a wall with 20 other women.”
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