In a sparsely appointed back office, one featuring a desk, a few chairs and metal shelving lined with roofing guns and assorted tools in well-traveled hard cases used by Habitat for Humanity crews, a framed picture of John Sears hangs on a beige wall.
Under the photo of Habitat's construction site manager is this inscription.
"Oh Lord, deliver me from having to teach teenagers how to build a house. Amen."
"Oh, do this job long and you can find a skill in anyone — young, old, whatever — to put to use when putting up a house," Sears said, laughing and shaking off that particular prayer before lunch Thursday. "It's not as bad as that says. At least that's what I keep telling myself."
Near the front entry of the Habitat offices on South First Street, there were a dozen or so volunteers — all long removed from their teen years — taking a break from Thursday's persistent drizzle to down chicken sandwiches and chips donated by Chick-fil-A. As on most Tuesdays and Thursdays, they'd been out all morning doing trim work, running wiring and laying block on Habitat's construction and rehabilitation projects that dot Greater Lafayette. In by noon, they were out again at 1 p.m. to install surround showers or prep a foundation waiting to be poured, all in the work of the faith-based housing organization.
"Those retirees are the backbone of who we are and why we can keep doing what we do," said Doug Taylor, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Lafayette. "They have time to devote to us during the week. And they have the skills to do all of the trim and the technical work, without a lot of instruction or supervision. I like to say they set the table so the weekend volunteer can feast."
This week, Habitat will start work on what's being called the "Ol' Geezer Build," a house going in an empty lot on Attica Street in Stockwell. Work crews on the three-bedroom, 1½-bath ranch with cement board siding — "Ughhh, cement board," Sears moans. "Not at all volunteer-friendly." — will be limited to those 50 years old and older.
The house project, expected to take eight weeks, is in homage to Sears, who will be retiring from full-time work at Habitat at the end of the 2014 construction season. And it's meant to be tip of the hat to Habitat's Tuesday/Thursday retiree work crew, as well as a recruiting message to a new generation of baby boomer retirees who have time and skills to offer.
"When I first started, Doug told me that it doesn't matter how quick it is, it doesn't matter how perfect it is," Sears said. "He said, 'Your job is to make sure the volunteers have a pleasant work experience.' That was the opposite of how I had worked all my life. It didn't take me long to get why that was so important in the Habitat ministry."
Ol' Geezer Build, then, is a bit of a reward for years of patience.
"It will be easy — they're all experienced," Sears said.
About that time, Jerry Mott, a retired credit manager, came through the office, checking in with Sears and Jess Vandergraff, a full-time site supervisor for Habitat, about a rehab project on Walnut Street. Mott has been volunteering with Habitat for about four years, after meeting Sears through church. That afternoon, he planned to help on installing a bathtub, among other projects.
"I don't have to worry about these guys," Sears said. "We have people who really know what they're doing. Point them in a direction."
Maybe he'll have a new picture and a new, more serene prayer to post on the office wall after the Ol' Geezers get done in Stockwell.
Bangert is a columnist with the Journal & Courier. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter: @davebangert.
What you can do
• To volunteer for the "Ol' Geezer Build," a Habitat for Humanity house building project in Stockwell for volunteers age 50 and older, contact the Lafayette office at 765-423-4590.
• For more information about Habitat for Humanity and other volunteer opportunities, go to www.lafayettehabitat.org.