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Lawanda Munson stood in amazement last Tuesday as upward of 40 workers hammered down nails on a house foundation in a Gray neighborhood.

The early May heat shined brightly down upon the workers that day, but nothing could be brighter than the smile Munson displayed as she stared at the wooden framework on that day – a framework she, her fiancé and her three children are soon to call home.

“It’s just so overwhelming,” she said. “I don’t really know what to say, honestly. It’s just beautiful.”

The Bayou Area Habitat for Humanity approved Munson to receive the home and is sponsoring the building project.

Originally from Kenner, Munson and her fiancé, David Jackson, moved to the Tri-parish area following Hurricane Katrina.

She applied to the program and was accepted after she and her family struggled to get familiar with the area following the storm.

Munson is the mother of a 10-year-old, an 8-year-old and a 3-year-old.

“You meet people with big hearts individually every day. But when you put all of those hearts together, this is what you get,” Munson said as she pointed toward her soon-to-be home. “We’re all so excited. The kids are always asking me if they can come out and help, or they’re asking, ‘Momma, is it finished yet?’ They are so excited about their future home.”

To be approved for a home building project by Habitat for Humanity, a person or family must meet three criteria, according to the Bayou Area’ Director, Jarrett Hawkins.

The family must have a need for affordable housing. They must also have the financial means to pay the organization back for the home with zero-percent interest over a period of 20 to 30 years. And lastly, they must agree to partner with their Habitat for Humanity affiliation and volunteer for a specified period of time.

For a single person, he/she must volunteer for 350 hours. For a family of two or more, 450 hours of service is the benchmark.

“That family helped is going to either volunteer on their home, or in turn volunteer to build their future neighbors’ homes,” Hawkins said. “So in essence, it’s a community building experience.”

Pitching in at last Tuesday’s event was the Women’s Build Program and also AmeriCorps, who sent several people ranging from 18-24 to help with the project.

“We’re working here and in Galliano to build some houses for the victims of Hurricane Katrina,” said AmeriCorps media representative Ethan Lieberman.

Women’s Build is a Habitat for Humanity Internationally-sponsored program. The goal is to give women who want to learn construction skills an opportunity to make a difference in the community.

“Our program isn’t about excluding men at all,” said Aimee Bourgeois, the volunteer coordinator for the Bayou Area Habitat for Humanity. “It’s about including women. It’s about allowing them to be comfortable learning new skills and just have a good time to promote the mission of Habitat.”

The program’s involvement in the building project came in conjunction with National Women’s Build Week, which was May 1-10.

In honor of the program’s special week, Bourgeois invited Louisiana’s First Lady, Supriya Jindal to pitch in with the building effort.

Jindal accepted the invitation and made the trek to Gray. She spent the afternoon hammering down nails on the outside of the home with the other workers.

“I’m delighted to help Lawanda in their dream of homeownership with three kids,” Jindal said. “I wanted to be a part of this.

“Communities helping communities; that’s what Louisiana is made of,” she added.

Seeing the First Lady break a sweat on her behalf made Munson nearly come to tears.

“That’s so nice,” she said. “I feel important … The governor’s wife helped build my house, and I have pictures to prove it.”

Also lending time and support for the Women’s Build Program was local ophthalmologist Dr. de la Houssaye, who served as the 2010 Golden Hammer Sponsor for the program.

He said he got involved with the program after seeing the enthusiasm of his Director of Operations at SEECA, Monique Robinson, who is also frequently involved in the program.

“She told me about it a few years ago, and she was so excited about it that I got excited about it,” de la Houssaye said. “So now we’re doing it together.”

The doctor said he was thrilled to see the turnout at the event and was impressed with the motivation of everyone working.

“We’re sitting out here watching Supriya Jindal work out here, and let me tell you one thing, I’m impressed with how great she can swing a hammer,” he said. “She’s got a whole corner of the house her just about done. And that’s what all the women here are doing. Everyone’s really working. They’re sweating and they’re just making it happen.”

Construction for the home is expected to be complete by the end of the year – a day that can’t come fast enough for those building, as they want to see Munson reap the benefits of a brand-new home.

“This is just a helping hand to get people started,” de la Houssaye said. “When you see someone walk into their brand-new home, it reminds us that we take those things like our homes, houses and places to live for granted …

“We’re thrilled for Lawanda and we’re all happy to help,” the opthalmologist added.

Louisiana’s First Lady, Supriya Jindal, hammers the outside of Lawanda Munson’s home in Gray. Munson said of Jindal’s help, “The governor’s wife helped build my house, and I have pictures to prove it.” * Photo by CASEY GISCLAIR