MILWAUKEE — A group of all-female volunteers is helping change the lives of women they've never met.
It's happening in Milwaukee's Midtown neighborhood, where Habitat for Humanity plans to build, rehab and repair 100 homes in the next two years.
On Wednesday, we caught up with dozens of women hard at work building two homes from scratch on North 28th Street. They raised more than $15,000 to help fund this project.
"Women are powerful," said Rita Escremera, who was among the volunteer builders. "All together we can do a lot. We can build more than houses."
Escremera became a homeowner in this area 18 years ago.
"I would have never imagined having a house, if it wasn't for Milwaukee Habitat for Humanity," she said. "I can't even put into words the impact it's had on my family. It made home ownership affordable. It was such a blessing."
Teanna Kazee, another volunteer, will get her Habitat for Humanity home a few blocks away by Christmas.
"It feels awesome to soon become a first-time homeowner," Kazee said. "I needed the help when it was my time, and now I'm just trying to pay it forward and help build someone else's house."
Nearly 60% of Milwaukee renters live in housing that is not affordable, making it hard to make ends meet and get out of the cycle of poverty. Some in Milwaukee refer to it as "an affordable housing crisis." The chance to own a home — and pay an affordable mortgage — is a game changer.
One of the homes being worked on this week will go to a couple from Myanmar, who escaped persecution and came to Milwaukee from a refugee camp in Thailand. They showed up to help the volunteers.
"I needed the help when it was my time, and now I'm just trying to pay it forward and help build someone else's house." — volunteer Teanna Kazee
"This work is really rewarding," said Barb Osheim, president of Milwaukee's chapter of the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC).
Most of the volunteers have no experience building a home, others on-site work in the construction industry. For all of them, knowing this is an entirely female effort is truly special.
"It's empowering," Osheim said. "For the longest time, construction was always just a man's environment, and it's not like that anymore. We need more women in the trades."
To try to attract more women, NAWIC has created a local construction camp for girls in high school. This hope is that more young women will start capitalizing on good-paying trade jobs that need to be filled and don't require going into debt for college.