How's this sound for somebody's idea of volunteer work? Four days a week, drive from Walterboro to Johns Island to help others build a house. The work day starts at 7 a.m. and finishes up about 3 in the afternoon. This time of the year, temps regularly top 90 degrees and others helping may not even know which end of the hammer to hold.
For 64-year-old Dirk Hansen, this is a daily opportunity that offers more rewards than he ever imagined. He's an unpaid volunteer for Sea Island Habitat for Humanity and though he's there primarily to show others what to do, he's most excited about what he learns every day he's on the job site.
Hansen retired from Lowe's after a 30-year career in various management positions. He started dabbling in volunteer work with the Habitat folks before he retired eight years ago. Something about it really appealed to him. So once he retired, he started donating his time and knowledge.
Hansen was not one of those "I'll be there when I can" guys. He was committed to being on the job every day, even though it took a couple of hours of commuting time just to get there and back.
The normal ratio of workers-to-supervisor on a Habitat for Humanity work site is 10:1. Hansen's biggest challenge in the beginning was stepping back to let these folks get their hands dirty. He's a hands-on type of supervisor and enjoys doing things himself. This job requires that he show the less-skilled laborers what to do, then getting out of the way so they can do it.
When 30 to 40 folks are banging away with hammers, it can get a little hectic.
The people who populate these work sites often are rather inexperienced. There are church youth groups, college students on spring break, all-women teams, out-of-state retirees and sometimes, teenagers from Canada.
All of these people are anxious to help, but Dirk's job is to provide direction. His biggest challenge is to make sure they're safe and that they enjoy the experience.
There never are any conversations about goals or deadlines. They accomplish what they accomplish. He doesn't want any group to feel disappointed if a certain task isn't finished within a certain time frame.
His crews do not attempt electrical, plumbing or heating and air. Those jobs are left to subcontracted experts.
Along with other building supervisors, Hansen will direct his volunteers in laying a foundation, attaching siding, hanging windows, painting interior walls, nailing shingles ... anybody tired yet?
The typical house is 1,500 square feet with three bedrooms and two baths. The various crews will build a house in about 12 weeks.
Hansen also likes the idea that the eventual homeowner is required to contribute 400 hours of sweat equity to the project. It allows the workers and homeowner to gain an additional personal stake in the project.
When walking the lumber yard at Lowe's for 30 years, this was not quite what Hansen envisioned during his retirement. He's busier now than when he had a full-time job.
He also says, though, that because he's still active, he feels healthier and in good physical shape.
Hansen admits that when he commits to something, he tends to go all-in. But he's also quick to point out that he's still learning things on the work site that he's able to pass along to those who show up on the next crew.
It's quite common for returning crews to ask "Is Dirk here?" His quiet demeanor and unassuming personality always are a part of his tool belt.
Some retired folks think they already know it all. The really smart ones understand there are still some things left to be learned and to be shared.
Reach Warren Peper at 937-5577 or wpeper@post andcourier.com.
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