Housing / Land Use

Volunteers from Oregon lend a hand to self-housing families

Three former construction workers spend a week helping at Hollister’s Riverview Estate.
Arch Walters. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Arch Walters. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Bob Megli. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Bob Megli. Photo by Robert Eliason.

The 24 families building their own homes at the Community Services Development Corporation’s Riverview Estates project got a welcome assist when three experienced builders joined them for a week on May 24, picking up tools and lending a hand. 

Arch Walters, Bob Megli, and Joe Tushner made the trip to Hollister from Portland, Oregon. The men met while volunteering for Habitat for Humanity International (HFHI), joining the cause after retiring from their construction careers. While not representing HFHI on this site, they were drawn by the same instinct to be of service.

“We like to help out and we enjoy building,” said Walters, who has been working with HFHI for 20 years. “I used to live here in Hollister and I know how this project is going by following the progress on BenitoLink. I had worked on the first Riverview project so I knew the process and I knew they could use people. So I got a couple of my co-workers to come down to help out.” 

With five years of experience with HFHI, Megli is the youngest of the group, which he describes as “being around our 70s.” 

“We have been doing a lot of framing to finishing on the inside,” he said. “All the little things that have to be fixed at the end. It is typical pick-up work we do on all the sites. Because of our experience, the three of us can come in and see what needs to be done, and then we do it. It has been an enjoyable few days so far and it’s been a lot of fun working here.”

Tushner has 17 years with HFHI. He previously worked as a manufacturing engineer and a consulting engineer.

“As I was looking to retire,” he said, “I looked for things to do to keep busy and they looked like a good choice. Since then, I have worked on over 200 homes and it is very rewarding. I have really come to believe in the cause and we like what this organization does.”  

According to Tushner, a lot of the people they work with on housing projects are retired from the construction industry.

“These are the guys who come in, learn how to help, and stick with the program,” he said. “You establish some good lifelong friendships. The best way is to work with these kinds of organizations.”

Walters agrees, saying, “We do it to keep busy, to be less invisible, and to help people who are trying to help themselves.”

Michelle Conrique, a member of one of the families at the project, is Walters’ niece and was the first to alert project manager Bobby Ruvalcaba that her uncle and two of his friends would be coming down to work.

“I did not know a thing about them until she told me,” Ruvalcaba said. “After that, I got a call from [Community Services Development Corporation Executive Director] Sonny Flores saying they were on the way. They have a good idea of what is going on so they are a good fit. I wish they could stick around longer—there’s a lot of us old guys out here and there is nothing better than people with experience joining us.” 

More volunteers with construction experience would be welcome on the site, Ruvalcaba said.

“These families want to get their houses done in a reasonable amount of time and be able to move in,” he said. “Most of them are living in small apartments or with their parents and they are anxious to have their own place.”

The experience has been a good one for the volunteers who got a warm welcome from the self-housing workers.

“We were commenting after we left the first day that everyone here is so nice,” said Walters. “Everyone is very positive. The job site is really nice and the work is excellent, from our perspective. This is a well-run job and it is a cool program.”

Construction at the site began on Jan. 8 with the first group of 12 families learning the basics of carpentry. The second group of 12 families started work on May 21. The entire project is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year.

 

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Robert Eliason

I got my start as a photographer when my dad stuck a camera in my hand on the evening of my First Grade Open House. He taught me to observe, empathize, then finally compose the shot.  The editors at BenitoLink first approached me as a photographer. They were the ones to encourage me to write stories about things that interest me, turning me into a reporter as well.  BenitoLink is a great creative family that cares deeply about the San Benito community and I have been pleased to be a part of it.