So you're a hard-working civil engineer who's about to take an extended vacation. What are you going to do? Go on a cruise? Take a European vacation? Play endless rounds of golf?
Well, if you're John Bosshart, you and dozens of other volunteers from First Presbyterian Church of Fort Worth go build a 1,100-square-foot Habitat for Humanity home for a Fort Worth woman and her granddaughter. Your pay: sheer joy.
"This is therapy," said Mr. Bosshart, who works for Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad. "It's a real change in the way you do things. I received a lot from others when I was young, and this is just a way to give back."
Together, the Dallas and Fort Worth chapters of Habitat for Humanity have built more than 300 homes, and religious groups are among the most active builders. For two churches that helped lead the way, construction is more than a one-time effort -- it's an ongoing ministry.
Highland Park United Methodist Church is building its 10th Habitat home in the Ideal neighborhood of East Dallas. It plans to build three more this year, and a whopping 100 in the next 10 years.
"It's one experience to be a member of a church and come on Sundays," said Joe Overley, chairman of Carpenters for Christ, the church's Habitat ministry. "But it's very different if you're not just hearing the word of God but doing the word of God."
Rex Spivey, executive director for Dallas Area Habitat for Humanity, praised the 100-houses-in-10-years goal of Mr. Overley's church.
"This is the biggest commitment ever to Dallas Area Habitat," Mr. Spivey said. "Towards the end of their commitment, they plan to build 10 homes a year. No other sponsor has ever built more than two or three in a year. We are thrilled."
The Pursuits Sunday School class, made up mostly of singles, is building Highland Park UMC's current Habitat home on Choice Street in Dallas for José Madrid and his family.
"For many of us, building this home is like building our love for Christ," said class member Kevin Atkinson. "It's a very fulfilling feeling to work on this home and build it for José and his family."
First Presbyterian Church of Fort Worth just finished building its 25th Habitat home, and members have committed to build another 25 by the end of 2005. Ann Chappell, co-project manager for the house, said the 10 years she's spent helping Habitat has been more than just a hobby.
"My husband served on the City Council, and one of the things that I learned from that was the need for affordable housing," Mrs. Chappell said.
"But I had to find my own mission, and for me, it was Habitat. For me, it's a ministry that I feel very called to."
Since 1976, Habitat for Humanity has built more than 100,000 homes in 76 countries, including more than 35,000 in the United States, almost all of them through the efforts of volunteers. In 1999, Texas was the fourth-largest builder of Habitat homes.
Mrs. Chappell said that First Presbyterian has had no problem recruiting church members for the houses, which can take 12 weeks to build. Because volunteers do most of the work, most construction is done on weekends.
In the most recent First Presbyterian effort, most of the home was built in the church parking lot so that more members could participate. It was then moved to its permanent site in a near-south Fort Worth neighborhood, where it will be occupied by Alice Miller and her 12-year-old granddaughter, Shanice.
"The greatest joy I get is bringing new people aboard and seeing that fire get lit," Mrs. Chappell said of neophyte volunteers. "The people in this congregation have been enormously blessed, and this is sort of our way of giving back. My real joy is seeing people come out who haven't ever done something like this before."
Such as church receptionist Barbara Corey, who got someone to take over the church phones so she could help build the three-bedroom home.
"It makes you feel good that you can help somebody else have a real pretty home," Ms. Corey said. "If we can't help somebody else out, then we're in trouble."