Westwood Residents and Volunteers Provide the Ultimate Welcome to New Neighbors (Updated)

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Photo by Darlene Wong Cancell. Volunteer Stephen Harte, standing on the newly poured foundation of SS Habitat's Westwood house, assists Mike DiBenedetto from below.

As of Saturday, July 10, 2021, local volunteers have started construction on South Shore Habitat for Humanity’s house in Westwood, located at the intersection of Burgess Avenue and Highview Street. The foundation was completed earlier in July. Now, on the morning of July 10th, the first crew of 6 volunteers and a site manager are meeting to work on the above-ground work.

Before their 8 a.m. start, the volunteers take steps to respect the pattern of neighborhood traffic. Three of them meet in the parking lot of First Baptist Church of Westwood, and then travel together to the build site. Three other volunteers live close enough to walk.

Upon arriving at the site, the volunteers receive instructions from Mr. Mike Crisafulli. Mr. Crisafulli had been a building inspector in Ashland and is currently the site manager of the SS Habitat Westwood build. He enjoys working with Habitat family partners – the homeowners who will provide 250 volunteer hours in exchange for a SS Habitat home with a manageable mortgage.

“It’s a rewarding job because people thank you. You get to know the family partners and volunteers. It’s a good feeling,” says Mr. Crisafulli.

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Not too long from now, there’s a good chance that SS Habitat’s Westwood family partners will join the volunteer building efforts. According to Mr. Crisafulli, SS Habitat has received approximately 35 applications for the Westwood home. SS Habitat is in the process of selecting finalists, he says.

Mr. Crisafulli describes the work of the day. The volunteers will lay a first floor deck using plywood planks, glue, hammer, and nails. After completing the first floor deck, first floor walls will be installed. The onsite storage unit will be organized. It will hold tee shirts, hard hats, gloves, safety glasses, hammers, nails, and among other things, hand sanitizer. Volunteers will receive breaks at 10 a.m. and noon. The day’s work ends at 3:30 p.m.

Mr. Crisafulli remarks that the pandemic has caused SS Habitat to scale down on the number of volunteers a little, but that the planned number for this project – 6 volunteers and a site manager – is a good number.

“It gives everyone something to do,” he says.

He particularly appreciates returning volunteers such as Mr. Frank Geary, whom Mr. Crisafulli says has worked with SS Habitat for about a decade. Mr. Geary helped to build SS Habitat’s latest home in Easton before coming to Westwood. Mr. Crisafulli notes that having experienced volunteers like Mr. Geary on site is extremely helpful.

However, future volunteers can take SS Habitat at its word that no experience is necessary to help build a home.  The volunteers have been instructed to simply ask, and they will be shown how to do any task in question.

Says Volunteer Stephen Harte, build organizers have told volunteers, “The rule of the day is if you don’t know how to do something . . . you should do it.” 

Volunteer Mike DiBenedetto, says, “The interesting thing about this work is that the volunteers are doing the work. You hear that’s what happens, and it really is. There’s actual building of the house, for sure. This is real construction.”

Mr. Harte lives nearby. He walked to the build site. He notes that at one time, an unoccupied house sat on the lot. It was torn down, and he believes that the lot has been empty for about a decade.

A school teacher, Mr. Harte tends to have summers off, and he is always looking for a good volunteer opportunity. He regularly volunteers for a furniture bank in Walpole. His job here at the SS Habitat house includes “a little of everything” in constructing the first floor deck. So far, he has used a hammer and nails, sledge hammer, and saw. All of this is new to him.

Mr. DiBenedetto lives near the Martha Jones School. He works on information technology for a real estate company and decided to volunteer because, “Everyone needs housing, but everyone deserves a home. . . . Anything we can do to be more inclusive in the community is something we should be trying to do.”

“Housing in Westwood may not be attainable for everyone. We need a mix of housing in the area. A 1,200 square foot home is a rare find in Westwood. Every new home here is over 2,000 square feet. Quite honestly, it’s probably better suited to have people in smaller homes and using space efficiently than having lots of space and not using it,” he says.

Ms. Mary Comer is a SS Habitat volunteer, staff member at Westwood’s Sheehan School, and future neighbor to the family that will inhabit the home she is helping to build. Ms. Comer’s husband, Patrick Comer, is also volunteering. Her daughter and neighbors plan to volunteer on an upcoming build day.

Ms. Comer has never performed any construction before. However, coming from a family involved in construction, she says she has always been around it. Ms. Comer kneels on the new subfloor with a heavy duty glue gun. She applies glue to floor joists, preparing the way for other volunteers to lay down additional plywood planks to complete the subfloor.

“We all need to have someone or something to lift us up sometimes, so this is one of my chances to do that,” she says.

Mr. Jacob Reasoner exemplifies two perspectives on just that notion. He is someone who has been lifted up by SS Habitat volunteers, and now he is doing his part to lift up others. Just two weeks after moving into his own SS Habitat home in Easton, and despite already having contributed the 250 volunteer hours that SS Habitat requires from its family partners, Mr. Reasoner is volunteering his time and energy to build a SS Habitat home for a Westwood family.

“I’m looking forward to working with future family partners and making it a tradition to mentor and work with new family partners,” he says. “I want my son to know that we help build houses for people just like a house was built for us. It’s important to instill in him the importance of a safe neighborhood and a decent home in a good school district. Any way we can help, we’ll be there.”

Perhaps like other successful SS Habitat applicants, before securing his SS Habitat home, Mr. Reasoner had experienced a major life change. Once part of a family of four supported by two incomes, he is now a single dad to his young son. Until recently, he and his son had been living in a small apartment complex with his mother.

Mr. Reasoner says his son loves their new home in Easton, where he is finding opportunities to build forts and run around on a dead end street with neighboring children. Currently, father and son are working together to build a rock wall and install landscaping.

Mr. Reasoner states, “I’ll always want to help with future projects because the people working on these houses are top-notch and it feels really good to continue helping. . . . Anytime you’re having lunch together and sweating and moving things around is a good way to build a good relationship.”

The second volunteer build day in Westwood is Saturday, July 17, 2021. While all volunteer slots are full for that day, more volunteers are needed on upcoming build days this month: Thursday, July 22nd, Saturday, July 24th , Thursday, July 29th, and Saturday, July 31st. Volunteers can sign up by visiting SS Habitat’s website.

Thanks to Mr. Mike Crisafulli, Ms. Mary Comer, Mr. Patrick Comer, Mr. Mike DiBenedetto, Mr. Frank Geary, Mr. Stephen Harte, and Mr. Jacob Reasoner for contributing to this article.  If you enjoyed this article, please support local news by subscribing to Westwood Minute's daily email newsletter. It's free! Just click the blue "Sign Up" button below.

Updated 07/22/2021 at 12:45 p.m.  The spelling of Mr. Mike DiBenedetto's last name has been corrected. 

Photo by Darlene Wong Cancell. Mary Comer applies glue to floor joists for plywood plank decking to be installed. Click left/right arrow to scroll for more pictures.
Photo by Darlene Wong Cancell. Jacob Reasoner is a Family Partner and a returning volunteer to SS Habitat's home building projects. Click left/right arrows to scroll for more pictures.
Photo by Darlene Wong Cancell. Jacob Reasoner and Patrick Comer work together on installing first floor decking of Westwood's SS Habitat home. Click left/right arrows to scroll for more pictures.
Photo by Darlene Cancell. Volunteers make headway on the first day of building. Pictured (from left to right): Jacob Reasoner, Patrick Comer, Mary Comer, Mike DiBenetto, Frank Geary, Mike Crisafulli. Click left/right arrows to scroll for more pictures.
Photo by Darlene Wong Cancell. Diagram and plan of the front view of SS Habitat's Westwood home. Click left/right arrows to scroll for more pictures.
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