Women leaders connect with Austin Habitat for Humanity and roll up their sleeves to help their neighbors.


By Stacey Ingram Kaleh, Photos by Romina Olson and Habitat for Humanity

Over the past year, “home” has taken on a new meaning for many of us. We were called to stay home to protect our families and our neighbors from COVID-19. Our homes became refuge, workplace, classroom and gym. As the months wore on, the retreat into what once may have been our sanctuary and safe place to refuel became more and more isolating. We began to realize how much we need each other. And how much of what makes Austin so special is our culture of kindness. Generosity of a neighbor. The warm smile of the barista at your go-to coffee shop. Cheers of a crowd singing and dancing in unison at a concert.

However, as many of us remained in our homes, other Austinites had no place to go for safety and comfort. Homelessness and lack of affordable housing have been pressing issues in Austin for years. And they have only been exacerbated by the pandemic. During this trying time, nonprofits like Austin Habitat for Humanity and their networks of community-minded volunteers stepped up to serve the most vulnerable in our community. As they have done time and again.

Women Build

With a deep-rooted commitment to providing affordable homeownership opportunities and building sustainable homes for hardworking low-income families in Central Texas, Austin Habitat for Humanity is a vital force in our community. They dedicated the month of May to celebrating and empowering local women through their Women Build campaign, which equips volunteers with the tools and training to build a house for a woman or family in need.

“The Austin Habitat for Humanity Women Build is a community project that engages and empowers women to create sustainable, affordable housing in our community,” says CEO Phyllis Snodgrass. “It brings together women from all backgrounds, ages, skill sets and industries to make a difference. Women Build is an opportunity for women-owned and women-led organizations in the Austin community to partner with Austin Habitat to support women heads of households and single moms hoping to achieve homeownership dreams.”

Women Supporting Women

Started in the 1990s by Luci Baines Johnson, Austin Habitat has partnered with many female leaders and women-led companies over the last three decades. The campaign, while not limited to women participants, is an opportunity to showcase the crucial contributions of women in our community and to exemplify the transformative positive impact that manifests when women support other women. “We are using this build to highlight female leadership and the importance of women empowerment in our community,” says Snodgrass. “Women Build family partners feel an extra sense of support knowing that a community of top women, and women-led organizations, supports them.”

The 2021 campaign was led by three women who volunteered their time and expertise to re-engaging our community after a year of social distancing. Melinda Garvey, Nikki Graham and Heather Ladage. Garvey is the co-founder of Austin Woman magazine and AW Media, Inc. and founder of On The Dot Global. Graham served as Austin market president at Bank of America. Ladage is the market president and publisher at the Austin Business Journal. To promote this year’s Women Build initiative, they tapped into their personal networks to open doors and introduce Austin Habitat’s mission to a broad audience while rolling up their sleeves to get to work on the build. They each exemplify the potential we can achieve when we lead with heart and support the causes that are important to us.

For the Moms

Speaking on what inspires her to engage the community around Austin Habitat’s mission, Garvey says, “[Austin] Habitat has been doing such amazing work for years. What most people don’t know is that the majority of their new homeowners are single moms.

“Moms will do anything to provide for their kids,” she continues. “Habitat has been there to make sure they can afford the dream. With housing [prices]skyrocketing in Austin and home insecurity on the rise, this mission has never been more important.”

When asked about what makes Women Build a unique experience for volunteers, Garvey says, “It’s about learning, stepping outside of your comfort zone and making an impact for others right here in our community who are dreaming of the security of their own home.”

(l to r) Phyllis Snodgrass, Heather Walsh, Julie Petri, Melinda Garvey, Jessica Nelson

Vaccines have become more accessible and the summer sun re-energizes us. Let’s reconnect with our community and what “home” means to us. Take action and get involved. Make sure our hometown is supportive of all of our neighbors. That we’re a city that continues to prioritize our culture of kindness through giving. As we give back, we build each other up and give meaning to the concept of what it is to feel at home in Austin.

With women leading in our community with their hearts and lending a helping hand in times of crisis, we can all be proud to call Austin home.



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