Sunday, August 19, 2001

Diverse women build unity, houses

By Denise Smith Amos
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Want to do something real to help heal the racial hurts in Cincinnati? Pick up a hammer and get busy. That's the advice of Carolyn Moseley and Helen Rankin Merritt, two Tristate women who have planned and built five Habitat for Humanity homes in Walnut Hills. They also are leading a group building two more homes in Madisonville.

        “We have to have a goal where everybody lives peacefully,” Ms. Moseley says. “You do that through working with other people. When you're sitting next to someone with a hammer in your hand, working, you can talk about life.”

        Ms. Merritt agrees that action to solve a problem melts away people's differences.

        “Volunteers are a different kind of people,” she said. “They're willing to do something. They don't have time to have differences of opinion.”

        They do have time to cultivate friendships.

        Ms. Moseley and Ms. Merritt became fast friends when they were co-chairwomen of their first home- building committee four years ago. Though they're of different races, ages, backgrounds and churches, they're as close as sisters.

        “We talk all the time on the phone, e-mail each other,” Ms. Merritt said. “We've done dinners together, gone to the Music Hall together.”

        Each says she will slow down some day, but only when the other does so first.

        “We say that every year — it doesn't happen,” Ms. Merritt said.

        Ms. Merritt, 64, is a retired former state representative from Evanston. Ms. Moseley, 50, is a Cincinnati Museum Center events coor dinator.

        Every Saturday — and at least once during each week — the women run steering committee meetings, provide food for volunteers, help plan houses and generally keep their crews in hammers and nails.

        “More than houses, they build relationships, bridges across sociological barriers and the boundaries that exist in society,” said John Cerniglia, director of Cincinnati's Habitat for Humanity.

        Ms. Merritt and Ms. Mosely oversee about 250 people, including a 19-year-old construction worker, a 90-year-old minister and vol unteers of nearly all shapes, sizes and lifestyles.

        “Not all of our projects enjoy the diversity that this project has,” Mr. Cerniglia said.

        “They've got a great mix of people that just feels right. We are whole when we're represented by people from across the city.”

        Over the six months it takes to build a house, volunteers and the partner family that will own the home can become close, Ms. Moseley said. She recalled how a family with four children touched her life. They had once lived in a car and were moving from an apartment complex of dark hallways and peeling paint into a new home in a safer neighborhood.

        “I live in Anderson Township, in the middle of suburbia; I knew such places existed but I had not seen up close the people ... hanging in there, doing their best to get out,” Ms. Moseley said.

        It's harder to be judgmental and resentful of people of different races or backgrounds when you work with them side by side.

        “People need to learn more about each other, where people are coming from,” Ms. Moseley said. “That old adage — you need to walk a mile in somebody's shoes — is true.”


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