Archdiocese spearheads interfaith effort with Habitat for Humanity.As Beatriz Gutierrez opened holes on a door frame with a power drill, she talked about how for many years she has been dreaming to own a house so her 11-year-old daughter can have a decent home.Her dream will come true in a few more months. She is one of the 30 recipients (or partner homeowners) of Habitat for Humanity-built houses in the Los Angeles area. And, as part of her agreement, she must contribute 200 volunteer hours working on any of the houses being repaired or built by Habitat, which she had almost completed by mid-November.Gutierrez’s efforts were part of the inaugural Interfaith Build Week, a pilot project coordinated by Father Alexei Smith, director of the archdiocesan office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, and Chris Untiet, Habitat’s faith and community relations manager.“It is important that religious leaders have a hands-on experience in charity endeavors,” Father Smith told The Tidings, as he took his own turn wielding the power drill. “It is a wonderful image of solidarity with one another.”The project was a dream come true for Father Smith, pastor of Russian-Greek St. Andrew Church in El Segundo, who said he was inspired by President Jimmy Carter, who “devoted his life to building houses all over the world bringing people together.”During his five years as president of the Interreligious Council of Southern California, Father Smith had wanted to partner with Habitat for Humanity, but many had the perception that the organization was only for Christians, so “we never did it,” he said.When Habitat leadership realized that was the perception, a few years ago they started partnering with other denominations around the world building and repairing houses. The idea is to “rally together around a common goal: to come together to serve those in need,” said Untiet, noting that applicants are never turned down for their religious beliefs. “Everyone deserves a decent home.”For some years now the organization has been partnering with interfaith communities in Atlanta and Denver, and it recently has started developing such partnerships in New York, Seattle, Grand Rapids (Michigan) and now in Los Angeles.Habitat purchased houses in Lynwood and South Gate that will be remodeled over the next three months, the average time it takes the Habitat building crew to do such work.During that time members of the different religious communities will participate in the remodeling process together with future homeowners who are required to volunteer 200 hours, or “sweat equity hours.” Having construction skills is a plus, but it is not required. Participants are guided and/or trained by Habitat’s staff.The organization has similar partnerships in Latin American countries and other parts of the world (Habitat Global Village), where volunteers are invited to go, said Untiet. ‘They’re like a family’Beatriz Gutierrez, born in Mexico and raised in South Los Angeles, has worked at the University of Southern California’s food service. In 2008 she moved to Washington seeking a better life, but a year ago her father suffered a stroke, which coincided with her divorce. She decided to return to L.A. to support her parents and moved into their home together with her daughter. “I’m glad I found this program,” said Gutierrez, who applied to Habitat in June after a friend told her about it. “Their staff showed me how to use the tools. They’re like a family; they have a positive way to look at things.”On the morning of Nov. 14, Gutierrez shared her testimony with the leaders of different religious denominations who formed a task force to partner with Habitat for Humanity. Like hammering and drilling, it was the first time she’d ever been a “keynote speaker,” and her audience appreciated her desire and hands-on efforts to make a better life for her family.“Praying with knuckles is part of doing God’s work,” said Rabbi Adam Kligfeld, who encouraged his congregation at L.A.-based Temple Beth Am to join the effort after he participated in a building project in June. It is another way of “having the synagogue more connected.”Janet Petti and Jacky Liu, from the Buddhist Temple His Lai in Hacienda Heights, said they had never heard about Habitat for Humanity until Untiet contacted their leadership.They described the interfaith home repair as a “meaningful project” not only for the future homeowners, but for the religious communities as well.“Here you forget about dogmas,” said Petti. “All people are connected by giving back to the community together. You realize that you’re not alone; we’re just human beings reaching out to other people.”“We all belong to the same family and with this act I’m giving into the family,” said Simon Simonian, leader of the Religious Society of France (Quakers) and a member of the Interreligious Council of Southern California. “I’m making my family richer and better.”Other faith traditions represented were Baha’i, other Christian churches, Hinduism, Islam, the Religious Society of Friends, Unitarian Universalism, and several synagogues. Father Smith presided at a prayer service at the beginning and end of the build.Earlier this year, the organization held the Habitat Lenten Build, with participation of numerous Catholic parishes, including American Martyrs (Manhattan Beach), St. Monica (Santa Monica), St. Jerome (L.A.), St. John Chrysostom (Inglewood), Our Lady of Malibu (Malibu), St. James (Redondo Beach), St. Lawrence of Brindisi (Watts), St. John Fisher (Rancho Palos Verdes), St. Bartholomew (Long Beach) and Corpus Christi (Pacific Palisades).In the last 20 years Habitat for Humanity has repaired and built about 400 houses in the Greater L.A. area, one of its largest affiliates in the country with a staff of 70, including former volunteers who were trained and later hired by Habitat. During 2012, 82 homes were completed in Los Angeles, and the organization has planned a large project of new homes in Culver City and Long Beach.For more information about Habitat for Humanity, call Chris Untiet at (310) 323-4663 or visit To contact the office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, call Father Alexei Smith at (310) 322-1892.{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2012/1221/habitat/{/gallery}