When the opportunity arose to help people through Atlanta Habitat for Humanity's Georgia Tech chapter, Mark Honeycutt jumped on it. "When you're a college student, free food always sounds good," says the philanthropic builder, who was a freshman at Tech in 1996 at the time of his first Habitat experience.
Still hammering away in his 11th year as a volunteer skilled supervisor with Atlanta Habitat, Honeycutt offers some tips of the not-for-profit trade. He swears there's a payoff – including free lunches – but he doesn't kid anyone about such challenges as early-morning starts on Saturdays.
"That's the hardest part," he notes. "Once people get up, they have fun."
Getting up is a lot easier to do when you know you're not going to be shirt-soaked or bone-chilled, which is why a lot more people will be tempted this fall to join the Mark Honeycutts of Atlanta.
October in particular is a cool month for volunteers. Thousands of volunteers participate in a range of renovation and cleanup projects during Hands on Atlanta Day (Oct. 6), and this year the Beltline Partnership, Park Pride and Trees Atlanta are sponsoring a Beltline Clean-Up Day (Oct. 20).
Building a house with Habitat for Humanity is Honeycutt's preferred fall volunteer activity. After working as a contractor in the oil-and-gas industry in Texas, he returned to his alma mater for grad school, and came back to the first volunteer organization to trust him with power tools.
"I felt like I wanted to shift my karma back to the center," he recalls.
Honeycutt served as an AmeriCorps volunteer for one year with Atlanta Habitat full-time. Although he no longer works the 40-hour week with Habitat, he still puts in three to four Saturdays a month as one of the organization's approximately 75 volunteer skilled supervisors.
As supervisor of as many as 15 people on any given Saturday, Honeycutt knows what he wants in a volunteer: "It doesn't take much."
Some prerequisites, he says, include a good heart, an open mind, a willingness to learn and an ability to follow directions – but experience didn't make the list.
"I've taught people how to properly hold a hammer," he says. "[If] they want to get out there, try new things and test their comfort level, that's fine with me."
From Sept. 8-Nov. 17, Atlanta Habitat will begin construction on 16 new houses. With the help of as many as 14,000 volunteers, the group hopes to reach its goal of 50 completed houses in 2007.
The person who will one day own the house works alongside those generous strangers. People seeking a mortgage through Atlanta Habitat are far from charity cases; future Habitat homeowners put in, among other things, a down payment and 250 hours of sweat equity working on their own, or someone else's, Habitat house.
For Honeycutt, meeting and working with the homeowner is rewarding: "You really feel like you're helping people out who otherwise wouldn't have a chance at home ownership. And, I mean, that's the American dream, right?"
A construction guy at heart, Honeycutt's favorite part of the Atlanta Habitat job is day two of the seven-day build schedule, when the roof trusses go up. "It goes from looking sort of like a house to looking definitely like a house," Honeycutt says. "It's a feeling of accomplishment. You step back, and ... wow."
When he was the "house leader" in charge of a crew, Honeycutt winced when landscaping day came. It wasn't one of his strengths. He enlisted the help of Jason, a friend in the Habitat office who had worked with a landscaping firm.
The owner of the house went on to win a community gardening award.
"It goes to show the transformative power that home ownership can bring," he says. "Jason and I, well, Jason mostly, gave her a yard that she was able to cultivate and grow into her own."
For more info about Atlanta Habitat volunteer opportunities, visit www.atlanta-habitat.org or call 404-653-8400.