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Foundation of a future 3 women help build one another's homes

Deborah Collins pointed to the hallway and proudly took credit for installing the drywall there for her her soon-to-be neighbor, Darlene Johnson.

"On-the-job training -- there's nothing like it," Collins said.

Collins isn't a contractor, just a homeowner-in-training, like many of the others in the crowd of perhaps 100 people who gathered at the dedication ceremony for Johnson's new home on, appropriately enough, Johnson Street.

Johnson's is the first of three new Habitat for Humanity homes that will sit next to one another at the East Side site where the Buffalo Fire Department's Engine Company 27 stood from its construction in 1896 to its demolition in 1993.

The three-bedroom home is only the second Women Build home for the local chapter, which has completed more than 150 homes in its 20 years. The first Women Build home was done in 1997.

From the start of construction in mid-May until Sunday, about 350 women spent time working on the home, said construction supervisor Norma Henderson, who also thanked a number of "honorary women" for helping out. "In four months, they took this from a foundation in the ground to where it's ready to be moved into this weekend," she said. "We've empowered a lot of women in Western New York who thought they could never do something like this."

Habitat for Humanity offers low-income individuals the opportunity for homeownership, but part of the deal is that they have to put in 500 hours of sweat equity on their -- and other people's -- prospective homes.

So the three single women who will rear their families next to one another in the new homes -- Johnson, Collins and Geraldine Robinson -- have all worked on one another's homes.

Johnson did the subfloor, most of the drywall and a lot of the painting in her new home. "I learned everything through my supervisors," she said. "You learn a lot. It's your building, and you're learning it."

Robinson, who will rear two great-nieces and a great-nephew at her new home, said Habitat for Humanity made her "not afraid to tackle something."

The women who will be next-door neighbors did not know one another before their involvement with Habitat, and they said that their shared experiences ensure they will be more than just neighbors.

"We've grown to be friends," Collins said.

e-mail: jbonfatti@buffnews.com

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