In October 2004, surveyors with Kem-Tec Engineering of Eastpointe, Mich., helped to begin a new life for a Puerto Rican family...

In October 2004, surveyors with Kem-Tec Engineering of Eastpointe, Mich., helped to begin a new life for a seven-member Puerto Rican family. The job was a boundary survey. The location was Detroit. The client was Habitat for Humanity International (HFHI). The family was the Guevara clan: father Efrain, mother Damaris, and their five children. The result, months later, is a new home for the familia.

The work Kem-Tec did may seem like "just another boundary survey" in practice, but in reality, the data they provided HFHI with is much more. The survey of 12 city blocks in Detroit's Core City/Thurgood Marshall neighborhood helped the organization to understand what they owned and provided the tools needed to split the land into lots-later becoming settings for many families to grow. Each of the 31 individual lots is now the site of a house built during HFHI's Jimmy Carter Work Project (JCWP). The groundwork of the Kem-Tec surveyors-with its philanthropic element-provided a springboard for new lives.

A Life-Changer

I now understand this element. In mid-June, I, along withPOBstaff members Diana Brown (group publishing), Kevin Hackney (marketing), Jennifer Hall (art direction), Kim Jensen (editorial), Karen Kubiak (sales), Dan Murfey (publishing) and Jan Wesch (sales), joined a slew of colleagues from our parent company, BNP Media, at the JCWP site in Detroit. Together, we built house #20, one of 31 homes in the now-revitalized neighborhood near the cultural center of the city. We raised exterior and interior walls, applied a roof; installed, sanded, primed and painted walls, ceilings and moldings; installed siding; landscaped a yard; and so much more. But the structure we raised is more than a house-it's a home. With Efrain and Damaris at our sides (Habitat homeowners, as many know, invest several hours of their own labor called "sweat equity" into building their homes), we built a new beginning for the family unit. The experience involved more than manual labor, more than building a house. Through the Habitat experience, our group of 40-plus employees, along with numerous professionals, received the opportunity to learn about each other and learn about giving in a way unlike any other.

POB Sweat Equity

Of course, there were numerous lessons on building the specific parts of the Guevaras' house. There are logistics. There are plans. There are proper tools and materials. There are professionals onsite to yell at just the appropriate moment before siding is cut wrong or saws are used wrong. I never imagined when I signed up for the JCWP that I'd walk away knowing the differences between hammers, how to ready a ladder correctly or how to prepare starter shingles for a roof. But I did (among other things), and I did it with excitement, care and much fun among my colleagues.

It was an amazing experience for everyone involved. Managing Editor Kimberly Jensen and Eastern North America Salesperson Karen Kubiak installed the window frames indoors. Karen took on "putty-duty" on the moldings and windows, and helped to dig a 4 ft hole for a front yard tree. "I thought it was great to get out of the office for a couple days and take part in something so wonderful. It was nice to see so much progress at the end of each day and everyone looking like they just gave it their all," Kubiak said.

Art Director Jennifer Hall helped to flash the window units and install siding. "It was all new to me but the one thing I'll always remember is the 3-foot rule for hanging siding: always stagger seams by 3 feet." Hall said. "The most satisfying part of the experience was working beside and watching Efrain as his dream came true. How often in life can you say you really made such a tangible difference in helping to fulfill someone's lifelong dream?" Salesperson Jan Wesch taped off rooms for priming and painting. "It was a great feeling to be helping a family that might not otherwise be able to afford their own home," she said.

Overall, the experience was one we will all remember forever. Many of us have continued to volunteer with Habitat or plan to in the future. Creating a new starting point for a family was remarkable, and we applaud surveyors who provide points of beginning for many people.

Kem-Tec's involvement in the Detroit JCWP was certainly not "just a boundary survey." Surveyors everywhere should realize the importance they play in creating new (and rounding out existing) neighborhoods, improving waterways, bridges and highways, preventing disasters, preserving historic relics, maintaining cities, counties and municipalities, and aiding forensic experts. The surveyor is an important element of any project forming our local, regional and national communities.