Earlier this month I got the opportunity to volunteer with Madewell on a build for Habitat for Humanity of Washington, DC. It's one of my favorite partnerships to date. Community service used to be a big part of my life, but since moving to DC, I haven't been able to do it as much as I'd like to - due to work, family, excuses, etc. It was so nice to take a full day to do something for others in need.

Madewell and Habitat
You may be wondering what Madewell and Habitat for Humanity have in common - good question. Madewell runs a denim recycling program called "Blue Jeans Go Green" where you can bring in any pair (and any brand) of used denim, and they'll turn it into housing insulation for communities in need and give you $20 off a new pair of Madewell jeans. You get $20 off for EVERY pair you bring in. How cool is that?

What's also cool is how much better the cotton from jeans is as a material for insulation. It's a very durable material and stands up really well to heat. It's a much better product than typical fiberglass insulation, and because the denim insulation is being donated to Habitat, the total cost of building the homes is lower. This lower cost allows Habitat to be able to help more families. Continue scrolling to see the denim insulation, read more about my experience, and learn how you can get involved too.

My Experience
The Habitat Team has a list of things they want to accomplish each day. The day I volunteered, they needed a team of volunteers to help unload a semi-truck full of insulation (made from repurposed denim donations) and stack it in their warehouse for temporary storage. Six of us piled into a truck and drove off to the Habitat warehouse to meetup with the shipment.

The insulation wasn't heavy, it was just bulky and required at least three people to safely carry it off the truck. After we unloaded the entire truck, we helped clean up the warehouse to make room for another shipment of insulation they expected. We quickly worked up a sweat but had such a fun and hardworking group with us, that the morning flew by.

After we completed our warehouse job, we returned to the build site for lunch and then got assigned our next task - create wall frames. (This is where I got a little nervous.) I honestly can't remember the last time I used a hammer to build something - maybe never. When I previously volunteered with Habitat in Florida, the house I volunteered at was pretty much built. We were there to help with some yard work (pulling out old weeds and helping to laid down sod). My first couple tries with a hammer and nail were pretty embarrassing. I bent a few nails, and twice I nailed a 2x4 into the ground (insert palm face emoji). I started to feel like I was hurting more than helping, but the Habitat Team was so kind and patient with everyone. They gave me a few pointers (like don't hammer with your wrist, use the power of your whole arm and to start the nail at a little bit of an angle) and assured me that they too made those same mistakes in the beginning. By the end, my nails were going into the wood like a hot knife through butter, and I felt empowered to go home and build my daughter a toddler-sized playhouse. Now construction terms like party wall, king stud, jack stud, and cripple are a part of my everyday conversations, and I think I'm ready to add carpenter to my resume (not really). In all seriousness, I left that day feeling really proud of myself for actually building something and happy that the Habitat Team said that we helped them accomplish a lot that day.

How To Get Involved
Hopefully, by sharing my experience, I've inspired you to get involved too. For more information on how to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity click here. Can't make time to volunteer? No worries. Don't forget - you can also donate your pre-loved denim to Madewell and help out in a big way!

What To Wear To a Build
I recommend wearing comfortable clothing that you don't mind getting dirty, close toed shoes, and lots and lots of deodorant. I opted for sweatpants because sweatpants are all that fits me right now (ICYMI). These terry trouser sweatpants are THE softest and comfiest pair of pants I own, and I'm living in them. Originally, the forecast for that day was to be highs in the 50s, but we ended up with the warmest and most beautiful 70 degree day. I was happy that I layered a funnelneck tie-sleeve sweatshirt on in the morning and wore a cotton crewneck tee underneath. I was also thankful to be wearing Tretorn Nylite Plus sneakers - the EcoOrtholite insoles made my feet feel like they were cushioned by clouds all day.

If you think you're going to start a construction career, then investing in heavy duty pants and steel-toe boots might be best, but if you're just interested in being an occasional volunteer, I feel I was appropriately dressed for the day.

Photos by Julien Garman. Also pictured - Sarah from 52 Thursdays and Abbey from District Dress Up.


Thank you to Madewell for providing my clothing and for inviting me to participate in this project with them.



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