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Working behind the scenes

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SNOQUALMIE - For a project as large as the Habitat for Humanity of East King County blitz build, it takes volunteers to help the volunteers.

They were there throughout the two-week blitz, handing out lunches, shuttling volunteers to the work site, directing visitors, giving massages, providing whatever was necessary to ensure everything would go as smoothly as possible.

Those behind-the-scenes workers also had someone in charge of them, Mia Walterson, operations manager for Habitat for Humanity of East King County. She said her most difficult task before the build was coordinating volunteers with their particular skills, and then matching them with their availability in relation to the construction schedules.

The past two weeks had her constantly on the run. One day, as she was on her way to find work for five electricians who had dropped by to wire houses, she got a request for a sign.

"We need to post a sign for people to bring taping knives tomorrow," one person said.

On her way to the sign-in tent to tell a volunteer to post the reminder, she found a contractor who knew which houses needed to be wired first and told him the electricians were waiting in a tent for direction.

"It's been really fun coordinating it all," Walterson said.

"We have such high-quality volunteers, and that is what has impressed me the most," she continued. "They work 60 hours a week like it's a really well-paid job. What do they call it? Habitat-itis?"

And that will help the organization in the future.

"What we do here will help us to develop a constant source of volunteers," Walterson said.

Sherri Ourada of Kent, who was in charge of the meal tent, said some of the challenges she faced were making sure 30 gallons of coffee got made and preparing the espresso machine for the 500 or so people who traipsed through any given day on their way to the houses they helped build.

After reading about Habitat For Humanity of East King County's need for volunteers in the newspaper, Ourada took a week of vacation from Boeing.

"I went in at the last minute and asked for a week off, and they said yes. I don't know whether that is a good thing or a bad thing," Ourada said last week with a laugh as she monitored the day's lunch preparation.

Serving lunch was another challenge. The food tent was so busy that blitz builders were called in shifts to eat - four houses at a time.

Some, however, wanted to ignore that call.

"The women's house is especially interesting," Ourada said. "They don't want to stop [to have lunch]."

The 20 or so volunteers that it took to orchestrate the mass feedings set up catered meals on tables while providing plenty to drink and coordinated with the break tent to supply fresh fruit and water.

Dinner was not as hectic since most of the volunteers went home by 4:30 p.m. Downtime between meals was spent cleaning and preparing for the next onslaught of hungry volunteers.

Van driver Wayne Trull had what some might say was a more laid-back task. He arrived at the site at 6 a.m., picked up a van and then drove down to the Trailside Building on the Ridge, where volunteers had left their cars for the day and awaited his arrival so they could be taken to the blitz build. He continued the back-and-forth drive until about 7:30 a.m. and then returned about 3 p.m. to start taking people back to their cars.

Trull is a school teacher in Woodinville and lives along Lake Alice near Fall City. He visited the Habitat project one day on his bike - and by the next morning he was driving a van.

"I had been wanting to do something, " Trull said. "I'm not really a nails-and-hammer guy."

Armed with a cup of coffee, a walkie-talkie, an air-conditioned van and a smile, he said the blitz build presented several opportunities to those who wanted to help.

"It's so well-organized you can just show up and bam, you're doing something," Trull said.

Jill Mortenson spent most of her volunteer time standing up. She was one of the on-site massage therapists. She was also a future homeowner putting in her "sweat equity."

Her three-day-a-week stint had her massaging anywhere from six to 12 people each morning.

"Today was a hard-core work day," Mortenson said last Wednesday. "I couldn't get anybody to break away."

But some did listen to their aching bodies and took advantage of the free rubdowns.

As Mortenson began a 15-minute massage, she asked a young woman what particular area was ailing her and began to work her magic.

"Massage increases circulation to the muscles so they can get better nutrition, and it allows better oxygen to muscles and the brain for clearer thinking and better safety and relaxation," Mortenson explained.

She added that stretching, or some type of yoga, would make people feel better and help them deal with the stress of constructing houses.

"In general, most people are staying healthy, though one girl pulled a back muscle," Mortenson said.

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