Nancy Hawk: Building Dreams Come True

Nearing 50 years old, parents usually start thinking about the end of their careers while they send their children off to college to begin their own. They hope their kids find professions that bring not only success, but fulfillment.

At 48, Nancy Hawk’s three sons are beginning to find themselves. And so is she.

“I’ve had my first career. It was raising my children, and I’m getting ready to start my next career,” Hawk said. After spending the last 20 years as a stay-at-home mom, she’s now in college working toward a business administration degree.

While not precisely sure where it will take her, she’s had dreams involving looking over blueprints among workers in Haiti, where her church does work with an orphanage. What she knows for sure is she wants to make a difference, and she’s not afraid to wield a hammer to do it.

About two years ago, her friend Annette Homiller invited her to New Orleans to help with rebuilding a neighborhood that still hadn’t recovered from Hurricane Katrina. Seeing the neighborhoods and being faced with the reality that living conditions were far from ideal even before the hurricane revealed her purpose.

“This is what it is. To build affordable, sustainable homes in communities where people can live well,” she realized. She has been working closely with Habitat for Humanity ever since.

Last fall, she got involved with Habitat’s Women Build program, which empowers women to learn the ins and outs of building a home by constructing one as an all-female team. She believes women can get more involved when they are able to discuss the process and ask questions without fear of embarrassment, and they tend to go about the building process a bit differently than crews where men are involved.

Hawk admires the type of camaraderie that only a group of women can form. “You may start the day not knowing anyone, but, by the virtue of women being women, by the end of your shift you’ve learned everyone’s name, their family situation and probably a great personal story about why they are out sweating, or freezing, working on someone else’s home when they could be at home taking care of their own,” she said.

For her, it’s hope. She knows she can’t fix the homelessness problem altogether, but seeing each home she works on take shape reassures her she is following her purpose, because the completed Habitat homes add up to a lot more than the sum of the building materials.

“Everybody’s broken. It’s a matter of how. Some people are broken in ways that we can all see — the homeless, the hungry, the disabled. But there are a lot of people walking around that are broken inside, and they don’t know how to fix it themselves,” she observed. “But when you get them hooked up with Habitat, you can see this change in people, because there’s hope. There’s hope for a better day, hope for a secure future.”

Habitat homes are nice yet simple, and Hawk believes modest living helps to strengthen families by letting people focus on each other rather than worrying about material possessions. “You can do away with all the fluff in your life and just get down to what is the most important thing in life. It’s family, and finding a safe place for them,” she said.

Because owners of Habitat homes are asked to assist with construction, Hawk believes they develop a strong sense of pride in their communities. “You’re working toward this,” she said. “If you work for something, you take better care of it and you have a greater sense of accomplishment.”

Hawk is currently training to be a volunteer house leader for the next Women Build house in the spring of 2011, to oversee the building process and check the work of other volunteers.

“I hope they’ve got backup. It makes me a little scared that they’re going to trust me with the knowledge base it takes to build a house,” she said with a laugh. But she’s been training on-site three days a week to learn how to tell if walls are square, how to fix mistakes and what details she needs to check on to make sure the house gets built properly.

Though Hawk doesn’t know where exactly her mission will take her, she is confident that in doing the work that feeds her spirit she can help build a stable, happy life for people, one family at a time. She doesn’t care if they know her name, as long as she’s able to better their lives through her sweat and labor.

“I can leave my little fingerprints all over places and touch the lives of people, and maybe inspire some of them, too,” she hopes.

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