As the early afternoon sun shone on the snowy hillside near Illinois Gulch Road in Breckenridge, the sounds of construction echoed faintly through the neighborhood. It’s not all that common a sound during the winter, but as it turns out, there is little that will keep this team from their project.
On this day, Friday, Jan. 3, four people hustled diligently around the frame of a new house. The house is Habitat for Humanity’s latest project in Summit County, and will benefit longtime local April Webb and her four children.
Site manager Elycia Schaetzel pointed out the features of the home, which is gradually taking shape. They include a single-car garage, kitchen, living area with a small deck and three bedrooms.
The true jewel of the house, as with many homes in Summit County, is the view. From the deck and upper floors, the viewer’s gaze sweeps unimpeded over the Tenmile Range.
“That’s what I really enjoy about building houses,” said John Pinell, a contractor volunteering his time to the project. “When you get up to the higher parts and the roofs, you go sit up there, you go look around and go, ‘Wow, what a great view.’”
This is the first Habitat for Humanity project that Pinell and Schaetzel have participated in, and they’ve been enjoying themselves so far. Both longtime locals, they had never met until this project, although upon meeting they found out they have many mutual friends.
“It’s nice to have such a wonderful friend to meet. We’ve had a lot of fun,” Pinell said.
Meeting people is part of the project, as Habitat for Humanity relies primarily on volunteers to complete its projects. Anyone can volunteer and experience is not required. Volunteers are taught what they need to know on site, by people like Pinell and Schaetzel,
“We’re always looking for volunteers,” said Bill Musolf, Habitat for Humanity board president.
Volunteers have shown up since the project got going in October. They are individuals, groups of friends and family, community groups and even some out-of-staters — a church youth group from Oklahoma dropped in several weeks ago.
“They really are psyched to learn,” said Pinell of the volunteers. “That’s the good thing about it, too. They’re really enthusiastic about that, and it teaches something.”
Schaetzel recalled one volunteer who showed up for this project with very little knowledge of construction. Before long, however, she became adept at using the tools.
“She was running the saw and she was doing the chop block,” Schaetzel said. Later, inspired by her handiwork success, “she went home and made a dog bed.”
As site manager, Schaetzel ensures that the volunteers are safe and comfortable with the tasks they’re doing.
“You don’t want to make it too difficult for them so they don’t understand what’s going on, but you still have to get stuff done,” she said.
Schaetzel is also in charge of overseeing incoming materials, making sure the orders and numbers are right, ordering materials and working with plumbers, electricians and the other experts who come by.
Schaetzel doesn’t have her own company (“Maybe when I’m done here I will,” she said, laughing), but she’s remodeled houses with her husband. She is learning a lot, she said, and does her best to visualize what she needs each day.
“That’s why I’ve really enjoyed working with her,” Pinell said, “because a lot of people don’t take the time, they just want to come to work, be told what to do and then leave. Where she puts in a lot of effort in the job and then is really concerned how to get it down right, what to do and has a fun time.”
“I do,” said Schaetzel, nodding in agreement.
Working through the winter has posed some challenges, she said, though not as many as one might thing. Mostly, they have to contend with strong winds and getting rid of ice and snow each morning. But once that’s done, it’s usually pretty nice, Pinell said. On Friday, the sun shone nearly all day.
The group hopes to finish the house in the spring or summer, and are looking forward to handing it over to Webb. As part of her agreement with Habitat for Humanity, Webb has to spend at least 200 hours working on her house, as well as 200 hours working on the next project.
Pinell and Schaetzel have gotten to know Webb through the project.
“She deserves it,” Schaetzel said.
Pinell said watching the homeowners take possession of the house and make it theirs is one of the best parts.
“It’s always so nice to see how happy they are in the place,” he said. “I mean, they’re excited. Year after year you go back and they’re still just as excited as the first day they got in there.”