Smiling, familiar faces found their way to the site of Amber Guscott’s home Tuesday morning.
Tasked with working on sheeting, trusses and scaffolding, five Big Brothers Big Sisters of Yellowstone County staff members, some of whom knew Guscott from her 8-year-old son’s involvement in the program, chipped in about four hours of cold weather work toward Guscott’s Habitat for Humanity home, in an effort that brought together two Billings nonprofits for the sake of one local single mother.
Representatives of Habitat for Humanity of Mid-Yellowstone Valley are hoping the house, their 74th, can be completed by Christmas.
Guscott, a mother of two sons — Tiburon, 8, and Jayce, 6 — heard about BBBS through a co-worker and decided to get Tiburon involved. The experience was a positive one for Tiburon and the rest of his family, although he is no longer in the program because of a shortage of “bigs,” as adult mentors are known.
Guscott hopes Tiburon will be matched with a "big" once again and noted that before Big Brothers Big Sisters, Tiburon "didn't seem like he was really interested in anything schoolwise."
Tiburon made it clear that's no longer the case, and Jayce provided an extensive list of his interests.
“Baseball, soccer, but I haven’t played soccer ... baseball, football, Broncos, swimming, going to movies, making cheesy eggs," Jayce said.
When they aren't playing or in school, Jayce and Tiburon enjoy helping their mother, especially with cooking, with both brothers expressing their love for and skill in making cheesy eggs.
Guscott has worked as a teacher's aide and at McDonald's before landing a job at COR, which provides employment and training opportunities for disabled adults.
"I love seeing them smile," Guscott said. "Just being able to see them smile every day and help teach them something new and them teaching us something new every day. It’s just an amazing environment, an amazing place to work."
Guscott said she hopes her new home will offer her sons a safer environment than the trailer park where they currently live. Guscott said her sons are very active but that traffic concerns around their mobile home restrict their freedom to play outside.
"It's not for me, it's for my kids." Guscott said. "This home is their home. It's for them."
The meaningful experiences and relationships Tiburon and his family formed with BBBS, as well as a little bit of the small-world effect, helped motivate Regina Griemsman, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Yellowstone County’s executive director, to look for a way to help when she found out that Guscott was getting a Habitat home.
Amy Hagen, the volunteer coordinator for Habitat for Humanity, is a friend of Griemsman and provided her with the information to help organize and schedule her team of construction coworkers.
Guscott hugged Jenny Jutz, the BBBS community program specialist and thanked the rest of the BBBS staff before an information session with Hagen and a safety talk from construction supervisor Steve Coldiron.
“Thank you guys for coming out,” Guscott said. “It means a lot.”
Coldiron, a carpenter of 40 years originally from Butte, has worked as a Habitat for Humanity construction supervisor for nine years. The nonprofit builds four houses a year, with houses completed on average in 90 days, Coldiron said. Labor is done with the help of those enrolled in Habitat’s home ownership program, as well as a group of 15 volunteer crew leaders that work three days a week for a total of 18 hours.
“They’re the ones that really make it happen.”
Ranging from a psychology doctorate holder to a retired geologist, Coldiron said the crew leaders are essential to the program’s success, which has allowed Coldiron, his volunteer crew leaders and Habitat home recipients to build entire neighborhoods.
“It’s pretty incredible.” Coldiron said. “It’s a great, good feeling.”
In order to complete Habitat’s program, Guscott has to put in a certain number of hours working on other Habitat projects, as well as complete homeownership classes. Guscott put in more than 300 hours of work before she was in the program for a year, having only missed one or two Saturdays of work, which puts her ahead of schedule compared to the average Habitat home recipient.
Pointing with a hammer at houses on the cul-de-sac, Guscott’s arm bounced around as she marked the houses she had worked on.
Guscott beamed as she walked through the unfinished interior of the house, pointing to bathrooms, bedrooms and the kitchen.
“I’m a totally different person here,” Guscott said as she took a break from nailing down siding.
Guscott's home will have three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, a laundry room, a dining room, living room and will be about 1,200 square feet, complete with a crawlspace basement, Coldiron said.
He said the cost of construction comes out to $100,000 but that Habitat ends up paying less because of donations and discounts they receive from local businesses.
The major donor for this project was the Staggering Ox, which donated $25,000, followed by $10,000 donations from Edward Jones, Stockman Bank and an anonymous donor, said Jim Woolyhand, Habitat for Humanity’s executive director.
Despite the temperature slowly rising from the 20s, Big Brothers Big Sisters development manager Laurie Maddock said the work was fun. “It’s a little warmer as you move stuff,” Maddock said.
For Guscott, the community support and an opportunity at putting a roof over her children's heads has already done much to keep the cold at bay. When move-in day arrives, Maddock's observation will likely hold true, with Guscott and her sons continuing to warm up as they "move stuff" into their new home.
"Just working with Habitat has taught me a lot. They’re so loving and caring people, and to see the outreach from people in the community that come and volunteer and to see, just the staff and everybody how caring they are." Guscott said. "I’ve just enjoyed every minute of being out there at the construction site. It’s just been amazing."