Thoo Lei used to live in a bamboo house in Thailand with a roof made of leaves that her family built. Now she gets to work with 100 volunteers, mostly women, to build her own home.
“I’m very excited,” she said. “It’s my dream since I was a child in a refugee camp.”
The home Lei will share with her husband, parents, sister and two children on Oak Street near the Kennewick Arboretum is the project chosen for Habitat for Humanity’s Women Build. Between 15 and 20 people at a time are working on the 1,200-square-
foot four-bedroom, two-bathroom house all week.
“We want to empower women in our community to give back to the community,” said Lisa Godwin, development director for Tri-County Partners Habitat for Humanity. “A big thing in empowerment is getting them to swing a hammer and really feel good about it, and know they can do it.”
The local Habitat for Humanity is one of 300 across the country taking part in Women Build. Godwin said the Tri-County Partners has participated in Women Build events for the past eight years, but this is the first time an entire week has been set aside for it.
Some women come in for an hour or two, while others participate for several days, she said.
“It just kind of depends on what they want to do,” Godwin said.
Work started on the Lei’s home Saturday, but some women were working for the first time Monday. The frame of the outer walls were already up, and they helped put up the first interior wall Monday morning. Godwin hoped to have all the walls and roof trusses up by the end of the week, and, potentially have windows installed.
“They’re moving quickly,” she said.
Working on the project was a first for Claudia Tapia of Kennewick. She hopes it won’t be her last.
“It’s actually a different experience, but a very rewarding experience,” said Tapia, 32, who works with the Tri-Cities Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “It feels very good to be part of a dream — a new home for a family.”
Melinda Thie, 19, of Kennewick, has helped her mother with tasks around the house, but didn’t realize she could work on such a large project.
“You’d be surprised what we’re capable of,” said Thie, a host at Texas Roadhouse restaurant in Kennewick. “I had no idea, honestly. It’s cool.”
Texas Roadhouse and Lowe’s Kennewick store have provided many employees to volunteer with the project, Godwin said. Lei’s home is near another Habitat house on South Oak Street being built and paid for by Battelle employees.
The Leis are required to pay a no-interest loan and put in 500 hours of work into the home.
Lei said she has enjoyed working with the women and looks forward to celebrating the completion of the house with them this fall.
“I so appreciate it,” she said.