Over the last several days, Irene Devine has been a whirlwind of activity: She’s hung drywall. She’s installed door frames and baseboards. And on a cool and overcast Wednesday afternoon in this small Polish village, she loaded wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow with dirt to address a drainage issue.
For Irene, this type of work – and the opportunity to help others – are particularly meaningful.
When she was 15 years old, Irene and her mother moved into their own Habitat for Humanity home in De Soto, Missouri.
“I was extremely overwhelmed by the Habitat volunteers who helped build that home for us,” Irene told me Wednesday afternoon. “They became our second family.”
She is one of 14 Americans visiting Poland this week as part of a Habitat for Humanity Global Village trip. The group is helping build a home for a family of eight who currently live in a one-room house with no real kitchen or bathroom.
During a break Wednesday afternoon, Irene recalled how her mom struggled to make ends meet following her divorce. She and her mom bounced from apartment to apartment. At one point, they lived in a mobile home.
That is, until October 2013, when Irene and her mom moved into their Habitat for Humanity home.
“After we moved into that house, we finally felt like we could move past a really bad time in our lives,” said Irene.
Now 20 and pursuing a degree in secondary education, Irene was determined to help someone else in the same way, which led her to Poland.
But since arriving, Irene has done more than just help build a home.
She was the young woman who took off her sneakers and gave them to Veronika, the 8-year-old who arrived at the soccer field the other afternoon in open-toed sandals. For a moment, Veronika was heartbroken, afraid she might not be able to join her brothers and this group of Americans in an impromptu game.
And during dinner Wednesday evening, Irene showed us a special keepsake – a Polish Bible given to her by her church that she will present to the family.
Irene’s mom couldn’t be prouder.
“She told me, ‘It’s so great that you’re giving back.’”
Mark A. Waligore is the president of the Board of Directors for Habitat for Humanity/DeKalb. This is his first Global Village trip, and he’ll be writing about his experiences all week long.