Friday, January 28, 2011


Two weeks ago, I put Don’s little dog, Pepe, to sleep. She was old and deaf and many things were wrong.  She was a gentle, quiet dog, a friend to all. She loved a walk above her food, and was a perfect RVer dog.  I hear still her nails ticking on my floor and her gentle snore in the night.  It’s hard to walk our old route along the back streets of Las Cruces. At the end, she looked into my eyes and asked me to make it all better, and so I did.  Another little piece of the past gone.

The work here in Las Cruces is rewarding but tiring.  6 days a week is too much, especially since I am what is known as a team leader.  Habitat’s RVer volunteer program brings in a team every two weeks, and I’m responsible for contacting them, welcoming them seeing that they are settled in and then making sure they are having a rewarding time.  I encourage them to take turns leading our morning devotions, which are ecumenical and eclectic, and doing them if no one wants to.  Then there is the paperwork which is pretty easy.  The hard part is being on stage so much of the time. I like it but it takes a lot of energy.  The last two weeks were my first formal shift at this role, and I was lucky to have a wonderful group of volunteers.  They were mostly experienced at Habitat work, and all are grown ups with a sense of humor and good cheer. 

The most difficult aspect of my work here is that the head of the construction, Don Stover, has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He has not been his usual fatherly well organized self since we got here in Sept, and his stamina and memory are failing him pretty fast.  He is the heart of this affiliate’s program because of his construction experience, but more important, he is brilliant at leading this motley crew of volunteers in our mission of building.  He is patient, a good teacher, and manages to diffuse the ego puffery that turns up pretty often.  I don’t know who will replace him next year, but the program as it is now may not survive his leaving.

In the meantime, Steve and I tiptoe behind him, trying to keep things moving by assuming more and more of his job without making him feel pushed aside.  But often it means things get forgotten.  Don did all the team leader job along with the construction stuff, but even without his illness, the work load of 12 RV’s instead of 6, and 6 houses instead of 3 would have been too much.

Yesterday, the floor tile crew under his supervision during the days before, had to pull up a lot of tiles that were laid all crooked. Laying ceramic floor tile is very hard work, and I know the crew was discouraged, but we just couldn’t give the homeowner a floor that bad.  Don would normally have been right on top of this, but he is only a shadow of himself.  And I know that he could see it going wrong and couldn’t quite redirect it.  Heartbreaking.

Sunday, a new team comes in, another regular volunteer will do a stint as team leader, but I will still do my camp counselor act and probably work too hard.

The woman in the office who was the local volunteer coordinator, liaison to home owners and did a lot of the contacting of suppliers and tradesmen has quit.  She and the Executive Director did not get along.  I can’t sort out how much of what she was accused of was real, and how much it was an ego trip on his part.  I would not want to spend a lot of time in the office with him.  She was also the only one in the office who spoke Spanish.  In a town where 65 % are Hispanic, and where many only speak a little English, this is a serious problem.  5 of the 6 homeowners are Hispanic, and 2 of them have limited English.  What this means for the rest of us remains to be seen, since I have only a vague idea of what her job was.

Today, one of the experienced volunteers who was expected to be here as a sort of project leader finally turned up. He has had several tragedies in his life lately, and I find him prickly, although he has a little bit of a soft spot for me.  He is from the south and between his accent and teeth that don’t fit well, I can hardly understand him. I suspect that Don called him to come and fill in in this emergency, but although his construction experience is OK, his people skills are not even up to the tip of one of Don’s shoes.  It will not be easy if he moves in to “save” us.  It appears to me that choosing appropriate personnel is not one of Don’s strong points.  His “chosen” local assistant is spending a week in Vegas, and is neither a leader of people nor an experienced builder, nor really very good at learning the construction. He is, however , a grand human being.

Steve and I know we can finish these houses and wrangle the volunteers by ourselves.  We may have to check into a health spa for a week afterwards, but we can do it.  But. We don’t know if we will be trusted to do it.  I fear that an outsider will be hired, most likely for their construction skills, and perhaps not their managerial and people skills.  They will have to replace Don Stover eventually.  He and his wife are off to Phoenix on Sunday to a different cancer clinic. I guess they are hoping for a better story, and I’m afraid they will either hear the same bad one or that they will be given false hopes.  We don’t know whether they will stay here or go or anything really.

Me? Except for tired, I’m good in general. Nothing suits me better than a challenge.