Doze Butler puts her hammer where her mouth is.
She doesn’t just talk the talk of giving back to her community, she pounds the nails and rolls on the paint.
She’s also made it a part of her legacy to teach the next generation the value and importance of volunteering.
“I believe people should give back, and that your ministry is not just in the pulpit,” said Butler, interim dean of Southern University’s College of Agricultural, Family and Consumer Sciences.
One of Butler’s main ways of giving back is through Habitat for Humanity of Greater Baton Rouge and its Women Build program, which started in 2005.
Butler signed up for the first Women Build and will again be taking part when construction gets started Sept. 17 on the new home in the Gardere area.
But she won’t be showing up alone.
Butler expects her Apparel, Merchandising and Textiles students to also grab brushes or pass out the Gatorade for Women Build or another Habitat home.
“Bonus points,” she said, laughing as she confessed her secret for getting college students out of bed on a Saturday morning to work all day in the almost unbearable heat.
“A lot of them go out grudgingly at first. They just want the points,” Butler said. “But once they go out and start giving back, it changes.”
After volunteering, the students must write about their experience, Butler said.
“One student told me that she paid more for her handbag than it was going to cost one of the women (homeowners) to move into her home,” Butler said. “That kind of thing really opens their eyes.”
And Butler said she knows that spirit of volunteering lives on past the next semester.
“They get to see the big picture. Get to see that there is such a great need out there,” Butler said. “They meet these homeowners who have to put in their sweat equity. They talk with them and hear about their hopes and dreams. It just really changes their point of view.”
And, if that isn’t enough, Butler cited one more reason for getting the students to the job site.
“I have yet to work on a house that went to someone other than an African American, yet I don’t see enough African-American volunteers,” said Butler, brushing off a momentary worry that her blunt comment might upset someone. “That’s just another reason to get students involved. African Americans benefit from this, but most volunteers are not African Americans. I think that’s a shame.”
Habitat’s Executive Director Lynn Clark said that as the Women Build program becomes more well known, she’s seeing an increased participation by volunteers from “all different socio-economic groups, faiths, areas of the city, ethnicities and races. They all come together for a common purpose.”
In all, Clark said more than 500 women will participate in the Women Build project during its 10- to 12-week construction. Work days are Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Clark said many volunteers, such as Butler, have been involved since the first Women Build. Butler laughingly told how she had long supported Habitat financially, but only learned to swing a hammer — which Habitat teaches along with other construction techniques to would-be volunteers — after she trimmed her long red nails. She credited local attorney Kathleen Callaghan with getting her out to the first Women Build site. Now she’s on the Women Build Steering Committee and Habitat’s Recycled Art Show Committee.
Like Butler’s students, Clark said others from Southern, LSU and Baton Rouge Community College participate in Women Build and other Habitat home construction. So do women’s social groups, adult sororities and such groups as the Junior League of Baton Rouge.
To find out about volunteering, call Habitat at (225) 927-6651 or visit http://www.habitatBR.org.
Clark noted that Habitat homes are not free. Homes are purchased by the homeowner families at no profit to Habitat with an interest-free 20-year mortgage. Homeowners are selected based on housing need, ability to repay the loan and willingness to invest at least 255 hours of their own labor into building their own home and others. Habitat of Greater Baton Rouge, founded in 1989, has built and renovated more than 265 homes in the greater Baton Rouge area, Clark said.