At a home construction site on Charleston’s North Hills Drive on Friday morning, hammers pounded, a crew of co-workers chatted and power drills roared.
It might as well have been music for Habitat for Humanity and the homeowners they serve.
After more than a year of being slowed by limited volunteer help because of COVID-19, eight Labcorp employees were the organization’s first external volunteer crew since last year’s stay-at-home order.
“In a nutshell, we’re back in business,” said Trevor Anderson, the agency’s volunteer coordinator and marketing and communications director.
The organization depends on volunteers to complete its mission of building homes for people. When COVID-19 hit last year, the agency’s home construction projects completely stopped.
In July 2020, the agency received permission to work with a small group of its “regular” volunteers — the folks who help out more than eight hours each month — all of whom were screened and cleared to work.
Most of the agency’s volunteers work about eight hours in a whole year, Anderson said. That cut down Habitat’s volunteer force from about 700 a year to 17, Anderson said.
“We had 17 people volunteer throughout the whole year that we could use, and the reason we could use them is that they were vetted by us, agreed to follow protocols but they’d also been volunteering with us more than eight hours a month,” Anderson said.
In a typical year, Habitat for Humanity of Kanawha and Putnam completes four to five houses. Last year, with limited volunteers, it completed one house. So far in 2021, it’s built one house.
Executive Director Andrew Blackstone said the agency is now working to make up for lost time.
“We have to,” Blackwood said.
Construction on the house on North Hills Drive is expected to be complete in the next few months. It will join other Habitat-built homes on land donated to the organization.
“We have support from the Federal Home Loan bank to complete another four houses, up here across the street,” Blackwood said. “We hope to get another two of those fairly far along in the process before the end of this calendar year.”
Anderson said the organization could use more volunteers.
“It’s been hard for me to find groups to come out, or individuals,” Anderson said. “People are still hesitant about COVID and, in my opinion, they should be, but we take all the necessary precautions.”
The group of volunteers on Friday were medical professionals who had been vaccinated against COVID-19, he said. He pointed out that the work takes place outdoors.
“We really think an exposure risk would be low,” Anderson said.
Blackwood is new to Habitat for Humanity, having officially started in the role July 1. Before starting, he shadowed outgoing executive director Shawn Means for three weeks before Means retired, he said.
“Trying to download 27 years of experience in three weeks was impossible to do,” Blackwood said. “So, I still have a lot to learn.”
A lifelong Charleston resident, Blackwood previously worked as executive director of the National Youth Science Foundation and was a teacher at Capital High School.
“I come from a different background,” he said, “although, there’s a lot of similarities from one nonprofit to another.”