I Didn’t Know His Name
A volunteer discovers an unexpected bonus
Dylan Lewis, a recent WHS grad, had no idea that volunteer work with Habitat for Humanity through Youth United of Wilton, would affect him on such a deeply personal level.
Photo by Karen Morneau
I didn’t know his name. We were paired up, one Wilton kid with one Bridgeport kid. We stood side by side like new recruits as we were given our work duties for the day. “You two grab hammers. You two”—laser-sharp look at me and the red-headed boy beside me—“will be working outside, landscaping.” Landscaping? Outside? Were they kidding? It was as cold as a meat locker outside and I wasn’t suitably dressed.
The Habitat prep sheet had said, “Be prepared for all weather conditions,” but I didn’t think that meant working outside in February. I glanced over at my partner, giving him the “they have got to be kidding stare” as he grabbed the handle of a large Rubbermaid garbage can and walked toward the shell of a house. Jeez, what was with him?
I got off my high horse, pulled on the dried, mud-encrusted work gloves I’d been given, and grabbed the other garbage can. I really should have paid attention to that prep sheet because then I would have brought my own work gloves, and they would have been brand-new and soft—not ill-fitting, floral-patterened hand-me-downs. We worked in silence, picking up slimy leaves and garbage. Hours passed (though it seemed like days) before we were told we could stop for a lunch break.
I had always wanted to become an Eagle Scout like my older brother, Ryan, but my mother told me to find something else. “Create your own path,” she said. “Do something that excites you.” Secretly, I think she was burnt out from driving Ryan to merit badge workshops, attending parent committee meetings, dealing with holiday-wreath delivery duties, and the time-consuming commitments of completing the Eagle Scout project. This is not to suggest that my mom had to actually do any part of the project, but her constant nagging of my brother to complete the mandatory written portion still echoes in my ears.
So instead, I opted to join the newly formed Habitat for Humanity of Fairfield County/Youth United of Wilton. Almost immediately I realized that I had no idea what I had gotten myself into. There was a lot of physical labor, constant fundraising, and numerous meetings. But funnily enough, I discovered that I had finally found something I truly believed in.
My first day “on the job” was an eye-opener. Bridgeport is not Wilton. Or Tokyo or St. Petersburg, or Istanbul. Or like any other place I have seen in my admittedly privileged travels. But it was as foreign. How could this be? Substandard housing or a complete lack of housing for families anywhere is unacceptable, but it was staggering to see in otherwise affluent Fairfield County.
By becoming a small cog in the Habitat wheel, I am helping to put families—who must complete 500 hours of sweat equity—into their own homes. Thanks to Habitat for Humanity, I have gained many skills, including painting, building bookcases and fences, washing cars, and decorating cupcakes. Yes, decorating cupcakes is a skill. Our homemade baked goods need an edge to sell well at fundraising events. And we always need more money to break ground on our next house project.
In July 2014, I was asked to say a few words at a house dedication. As I stood in front of the crowd that included the mayor of Bridgeport, I glanced down at my red-headed friend who was proudly sitting in the front row. Seeing that I was nervous, he gave me the thumbs-up signal. I gave him a casual “thanks for the encouragement” nod.
His name is Michael and he lives with his family in an East Avenue house in Bridgeport, in a house I am proud to have helped build.