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photo credit: Rodney Birch
How it came about:
Brandon Barash attended a Habitat for Humanity dinner 8-10 months ago and was moved by the families' stories. He liked the fact that the houses weren't given away, rather the families had to invest "sweat equity" into the house to qualify. He and Lisa LoCicero set in motion putting together an event whereby fans could donate and/or bid on an experience to build next to members of the General Hospital cast, which would fund the building of the house. (watch Brandon and Lisa's appearance on CNN Local). According to Ali Winkler with Habitat for Humanity, a call went out to the cast, and 12 actors immediately signed up for the event. Then 2 additional actors were added when they found out they'd missed the original call. The cast weren't the only incredibly generous people involved, some fans bid and won an experience to build with GH, and then donated their 4 spots to those who couldn't afford to bid.
The Monroy Family story:
Betty Monroy is a single mother of three children, she has two boys that are high functioning autistic and have Asperger's Syndrome. She needed to live in Downey because it's one of the best areas in the state for special needs children, but it became more and more difficult to live in the city due to the economy. Habitat For Humanity provided her a lifeline to stay in the community, and she grabbed onto it and put in 500 hours of hard work in order to qualify. Her 17 year old was old enough to be on the construction site, but due to his Asperger's, he was very shy and it was very difficult for him to deal with strangers. However, by the end, he was giving tours of the site and gave a small speech at the presentation of the keys! (watch the video of Betty Monroy's speech at the GH build)
I was unable to afford to bid on the experience, however due to the generosity of one of the fans who'd bid, won and donated their spots to those who were in my position, I and my friend Michelle were able to be part of this experience. I also won a couple spots via the Soaps In Depth contest, however since I had already won spots through Ali, SID graciously allowed me to transfer those spots to my other friends. The event was held on Saturday, December 12th, and had the weather cooperated, we would have been at one of the construction sites in Lynwood. However since it was raining, a company donated their warehouse space in an industrial park in Carson for the build. We went through the early morning registration, got our t-shirt, had continental breakfast, and got assigned our team numbers. It was at that point, we found out we were assigned to Jason Thompson's team, which was awesome considering we were representing this site. We were on a team with 3 girls from Long Island (who'd never met Jason before) and Scrubs board member Rosario and her niece (read her recap here). They introduced the cast and gave a brief overview of our day on the build. Jason recognized Michelle from the Rock the Soap cruise and other events, and gave her a hug. Since I was standing next to her, I got one too!
The team went into the warehouse, and then came the hard work... We were given the task of putting together the frame of the walls, which amounted to hammering in 16 inch nails into long boards. Which is relatively easy if you hold the hammer right, hit the nail with correct amount of force, and you don't hit a knot in the wood. Needless to say, getting all of those factors together at the same time presented a challenge all day long. Jason started the work with the Long Island girls, but steadily made his way over to each member of the team to spend a little time with them. At one point, Jane Elliott came over to tease him how skilled he was with the hammer and building, she then lifted up the two hammers she had in her hands and said "Look, I'm double fisting it". He laughed and teased her back...it was a very funny moment. As the morning progressed, I got better at hammering the nails in less than 50 strikes each, however as fates would have it, when Jason came over to hang out with me, I was having trouble with a particularly knotty area and the nails kept bending. I was hot, frustrated, and slightly embarrassed, and he had a big grin on his face. I hate to say it, but I turned my feminist card in briefly, smiled back at him and asked him to help me out.
We broke for lunch and sat with Jason and the team. He asked me what my plans were for Christmas, and after I answered I turned the question back to him and found out he was going home to Canada for 2 weeks. I asked him whether his family did a big celebration on Christmas Eve or Christmas, and he said that about 50 family members came over on Christmas (or the day after?) and a group of family members play hockey against each other and the rest watch. Unfortunately, the rest of the conversation was on the other side of Jason and the table and I couldn't hear, so I chatted with Doug, our H4H construction guy, who was sitting next to me. I asked him about his job and the recent LA Times article about Habitat For Humanity moving from building houses ground up to renovating houses (which is less expensive and better for the community). He said that it's only come into effect recently and it was mainly due to the second wave of the government economic stimulus package. Jason jumped into the conversation at that point and asked Doug about his job and mentioned the renovations he'd done on his house. Unfortunately, I can't recap what they said because the construction and building code terminology they used went right over my head (whoosh...). Jason did say he loved building and wishes he could do this all the time, and preferred this kind of event.
The rest of the afternoon consisted of finishing some of the wall frames, raising them, and putting them all together to form a rough build of the house. The crew noticed a couple wall frames were missing and Jason jumped in to help the Habit For Humanity crew put it together quickly. The organizers encouraged everyone to write a message or blessing on the walls at this time, unfortunately we missed doing that with Jason as a group when he later asked if we'd written on the walls (as he hadn't yet). Once the house was put together, they gathered the GH cast for photos (see the cute video of that here) and then each team came up to take pictures with the cast, then with the actor. We were the last group and everyone was ushered out once our pictures were done. Unfortunately, we'd run out of time for the meet and greet, as the tent rental people had come to pick up the tent the registration/tables/lunch was held in.
I have to say, this was my favorite GH event to date. I was very fortunate to be there because of someone else's generosity, I was fortunate to be part of something so special that gave back to the community, I was fortunate to be on a team with an actor who was skilled at building, and very fortunate it was with an actor that made the effort to spend time with everyone on his team (trust me, it was good that he made the effort).