Banker Kari Stoltz took a day off work last week – and spent the day at work of a different kind: building a house.
Kneeling over two-by-fours with hammer and nails in hand, she looked perfectly at ease.
“I got to know the nail gun last year, and I’ve painted and sawed – I feel like I’ve had a chance to try almost everything,” she said.
Stoltz, whose day job is a private client adviser with Bank of America, was among about 40 Triangle-area business owners and executives who spent a day helping build three Habitat for Humanity houses in East Durham.
“One of the first houses that I worked on for Habitat was actually right around the corner,” she said. “So it’s like coming home to be back in this community after (almost) 20 years.”
The occasion was Habitat’s fourth annual “CEO Build,” a day of hauling lumber, hanging siding, hoisting cement blocks and other such manual labor for people who are, most of the time, the boss.
“Put the nail right here,” site supervisor Jesus Gutierrez told a volunteer bending over a framing joint. “One right here and one here and then the back.”
In general, though, most of the executives knew what they were doing.
“They all seem to be very excited and willing to do whatever,” he said.
The executives were working on three houses in the 1600 block of Angier Avenue, each at a different stage of construction. At one, the work was on a foundation wall; at the next, building walls; at the third, hanging siding.
“Different types of jobs, and we let people select which one to go to,” said Blake Strayhorn, Habitat for Humanity of Durham’s executive director.
Habitat builds new and rehabilitates homes and sells them to qualified low-income residents.
“Our homes typically appraise for about $120,000,” said Habitat of Durham spokeswoman Heather Graham, and “the great thing” is a no-interest mortgage.
“Their monthly mortgage payment is only about $525 including taxes and insurance, so they’re owning homes for less than they’d pay in rent,” she said.
The Angier Avenue site is in Durham’s Census Tract 10.01 – target area for the Poverty Reduction Initiative Mayor Bill Bell began in 2014. Habitat is well aware of that project, Strayhorn and Graham said, but did not make a point of it in recruiting or publicizing for the day.
“We tried not to bring the mayor or politics into the CEO Build because (the CEOs) are from all over the Triangle and all have different political whatever,” Graham said. Plus, Habitat has been active in the area for a long time.
“Actually, our very first homes in Durham were right down the street from here,” Graham said.
Since Bell targeted Tract 10.01, Habitat has built 12 houses within three blocks of the CEO Build location, Strayhorn said.
“We’re doing all our work in the inner city,” he said. “It’s really exciting to help families empower themselves ... and also change the neighborhood. Families come in and they start looking out for each other and there’s a sense of community.”
By the end of the day, most of the siding was up on one house; walls stood where there had been only a floor in the morning; and the foundation was a little further along.
“They’re making wonderful, wonderful progress,” said Tanessa Atwater, who will be moving into one of the houses this summer. “I’m so excited, me and my family, we’re all excited.
“It just means a lot – going to my own, actual home, it’s like a dream come true,” said Atwater, a full-time hospital nursing assistant who goes to school and is raising three daughters.
“I will be the first homeowner out of my immediate family so I’m really, really excited about this,” she said. “I’m so grateful and appreciative of all the volunteers and CEOs.”
CEO Build is sponsored by the Habitat organizations of Durham, Wake and Orange Counties. Last week’s day was the first held in Durham, after three in Wake County.
“The deal is, the CEOs paid to participate today,” said Graham: $5,000 each, as personal or corporate contributions. “They’ve also committed that after today they’ll bring their employees out for some volunteer team-building days.
“It’s really great advocacy for us,” she said.
“We want to create passionate advocates – a lot of the CEOs that are here today ... come back for every annual CEO day and they’ll often take their passion back to their companies,” Strayhorn said.
As for team-building, “Marketing and operations guys might get along a lot better on a Habitat site” than at the office, he said. And, for business people, it’s a change of pace.
Typically, said Maria Kingery of Southern Energy Management, executives work in terms of the long run.
“Today,” she said, “we’ll see the walls up. Instant gratification.”