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Joseph Howell

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In 2005, Habitat for Humanity Tucson did its first Rainbow Build, working with a coalition of LGBT organizations and volunteers to build a house. This year, the Rainbow Build returned, with the stipulation that the home go to an LGBT family. David and George Ruder and their 3-year-old daughter, Mariana, were selected. The build started Feb. 14. According to Joseph Howell, Habitat's community engagement coordinator, the goal is to have the family in the home before the winter holidays. For more information, visit the local Habitat website, or call Howell at 326-1217, ext. 223.

How many builds does Habitat do every year?

The most we've had at one time is 21 houses, and we've just wrapped up 10 of those, so now we have 11 of those in production. Twenty-one was a lot, and we had so many volunteers. When we finished half of those, we were a little happy and relieved to be in our comfort zone, which is usually 10 to 15 houses.

Why so many builds?

Our big annual event is Building Freedom Day, which is Sept. 11 and was born out of our need to foster healing and coming together. We started this nationally on the first anniversary in 2002, and it's grown from there. Last September was the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, so we decided to do 10 more houses at once with almost 500 volunteers.

How did the Rainbow Build come about?

Habitat Tucson was the first affiliate out of all Habitats to do a Rainbow Build, in 2005. ... There are now Rainbow Builds in Austin, Seattle, Ann Arbor, and the newest is in San Diego. That's something we're really proud of, to be the first.

What's the history of the Rainbow Build?

The little history that I know is that the LGBT community wanted to come together and demonstrate to the general population that they are no different and able to do the same things in a charitable way. ... We are a faith-based organization, but each affiliate has a great deal of autonomy from Habitat International. In Tucson, we like to think of ourselves as a big tent where everyone of every faith, and even those of no faith, are welcome.

How much money does it take to build a home?

Each home costs $85,000.

And the volunteers keep labor costs down?

Yes. This can't happen without volunteers. Some of them are out at our homes three days a week helping to build.

What do people get out of volunteering for the Rainbow Build?

Well, I'm going to try to quote (Tucson Pride's) Karon Bohlender, who is one of the chairs (with the Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation's Wendell Hicks). She said, "In the gay community here in Tucson, we only come together once or twice a year to celebrate, but because this takes nine months, it gives us nine months to get together and foster friendships." We also have a really strong support from a lot of churches, a lot of support from the Jewish community. ... Tucson is a loving community.

How was the family chosen for the Rainbow Build home?

That was the only difference this year: The first build, in 2005, the coalition didn't want to have a say in who received the home. During this round, they wanted to be specific and identify an LGBT family to receive the home—either a heterosexual couple with an LGBT child, or (a LGBT-led) family. There are only two projects that require specific homeowners. (The other) is Women Build, a project through Lowe's Home Improvement Center.

Why Corazon Del Pueblo?

That is basically our neighborhood. We purchased the land and developed it from the ground up—put in roads, infrastructure and electric. There are 300 lots out there, and we sold almost 250 of them and kept the remainder. And we're filling in the remaining spaces for Habitat homes. It creates a dynamic in a neighborhood. We have other neighborhoods. We typically build in 10- or 15- home blocks. Out at Balboa Laguna, off Glenn (Street) and Oracle (Road), it is also a very dynamic neighborhood. Neighbors are out talking to each other, and kids are out playing. I think that's because of Habitat: They are great neighbors to each other.

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