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Homes rising from battle of sexes

Male and female volunteers are each putting their own touches into neighboring houses for low-income families.


© St. Petersburg Times, published October 22, 2000

DADE CITY -- Just like the men next door, these women are building a house.

[Times photo: Dan McDuffie]
Joan Becker of San Antonio, a Habit for Humanity volunteer, levels a block at one of Habitat's houses under construction on Osceola Street in Dade City.
And like the men, they're volunteers from Habitat for Humanity, which provides houses for low-income families.

But that's about where the similarities end.

"We put things into women's terms," said project co-chairwoman Carla Elen.

Spackling -- around here that's putting the icing on the cake.

Marking where to saw -- that's lining up material for a sewing machine.

"I feel like a kid," said Lani Prillman, 50, of Zephyrhills. "I'm learning new stuff."

Habitat for Humanity of East Pasco County, a 6-year-old organization that builds houses for low-income families, is constructing its 11th and 12th houses on the formerly vacant corner of Davis Avenue and Osceola Street, amid a proposed cluster of eight Habitat-built homes. No. 11 is being built by men. No. 12 is the first undertaking by women. Sure, they get some assistance from the men next door, but this is their house and they have the T-shirts to prove it: Gray ones that say "Women Building Dreams."

If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, when the guys step in to help there's a cosmic collision on the quiet corner property.

The female touches are everywhere. The women plan to build crafts, such as a key holder, from the scrap tile, wire, nails and wood.

"I think the hardest job out of all of us is from the guys putting up with the women," Elen said.

Last weekend marked the third weekend of work, and cement blocks lined the foundation of the 1,000-square-foot house foundation.

About 80 women gathered at a planning meeting for the house this summer and expressed interest in participating at different stages of the building process, said co-chairwoman Niki Trapnell of Dade City.

Several donors have kicked in. The women have raised $18,000 for Habitat, and Home Depot on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard in New Tampa, provided eight free two-hour construction classes for them.

"They had two hours and it takes 30 or 40 years to really learn," joked retired contractor Charles Smith, 66, of Zephyrhills.

While some women have assisted on other houses, none has a background in construction. In fact, these women spend their days approving mortgages, caring for sick relatives and giving massages.

"You get to play in the dirt," said Shirley Lanier, 60, a volunteer at East Pasco Medical Center. "Usually you wash your hands. We get dirty here."

Working alongside the women is Maria Florez, who will live here with her two daughters, ages 14 and 9.

"I live in a really bad place," said Florez, of Hutchinson Street in Dade City. "Every weekend night all you hear are (gun)shots. People are drinking every place."

In order to qualify for a Habitat house, the owner-to-be must put in 300 hours of work, known as "sweat hours," Habitat Secretary Pat Rozar said. If it's a couple, they must put in 500 such hours. These hours typically consist of construction and doing office work for the group.

The potential owner must also live in substandard housing and be able to pay the approximately $200-a-month mortgage, which is held by Habitat.

The only thing going up faster than the Florez house is the number of jokes.

"When are we going to finish the house?" Prillman asked.

"2004," retorted one of the men.

All kidding aside, Elen said, they will likely pound their final nail in about four months.

The women have taken on even the hardest tasks, Trapnell said, such as digging the holes for the foundation footers.

"You just shovel a little at a time," Trapnell said. "You can't do it like the guys do. We just have to do it at a little slower pace."

- Ryan Davis covers higher education and social services in Pasco. He can be reached at 800-333-7505 ext. 3452 or by e-mail at

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