Page 16,The Institute Report,April 2013
VMI Women Build Houses for Habitat
Two VMI p r o f e s s o r s a r e
attempting to build both houses
and a sense of community this
spring through a “Women Build”
Habitat for Humanity project.
Maj. Valentina Dimitrova-Grajzl,
assistant professor of economics
and business, has partnered with
department colleague Col. Tinni
Sen to lead the project, which
involves helping to build two
houses on Greenhouse Road in
Rockbridge County. As its name
suggests, Women Build brings
together women to help build
houses for Habitat, a national
organization whose goal is to
provide safe and affordable
housing for all.
So far, 24 female cadets, staff,
and faculty have signed up to work.
During the first work day, held on
a cold, raw, and muddy Saturday,
March 2, four cadets and three staff
members gathered to put up siding
and do interior painting.
The size of each group of volunteers is intentionally kept small,
Dimitrova-Grajzl explained, because Habitat trains volunteers on a one-
on-one basis. On March 2, she and Sen wound up not working at all
to free up slots for others. In the end, they performed another valuable
service: supplying snacks.
“They were definitely tired,” said Dimitrova-Grajzl of the cadets and
staff who volunteered. “Habitat worked them really hard.”
Dimitrova-Grajzl, a native of Bulgaria who began teaching at VMI in
the fall of 2011, said she heard about Women Build from a friend who
was involved with Habitat.
“I liked the idea of that empowerment, learning how to build a house
and doing something for Habitat,” said Dimitrova-Grajzl. “It seemed to
be an incredible opportunity to help somebody. I liked the idea of having
Both Dimitrova-Grajzl and Sen said that they also saw an opportunity
to build more than houses. “It’s not a gender thing so much as a
community thing,” said Sen. She noted that up until now, wellness classes
make up the only VMI program in which faculty and staff from different
departments might meet one another.
“There are so many people at VMI whom I don’t know,” said Dimi-
trova-Grazjl. “I already have met at least three people from one shift.”
The program fosters connection both inside the VMI community and
with local residents.
“Habitat fits very nicely with the mission of VMI, which is to have
leaders, but you also want to have people who have compassion and
understand other people’s positions – who they are and why they are
Emma Yancey ’13 and Lisla Danas, executive assistant with the
VMI Alumni Association, prepare to install siding.
– VMI Photo by Kevin Remington.
where they are,” she noted. “It gives empathy, it gives leadership, and
it gives some practical skills.”
Sen echoed this, saying, “Most of the cadets who come here want to
do something for their country or their community.”
Two of the cadets who participated in the March 2 work day said that
giving back to the community just feels good – and they can't wait to go
“I signed up because it sounded like fun,” said Rachel Boldry ’14,
who planned on going back twice before the semester ends. “I enjoy
community service projects and helping others.”
“It’s not very often that chances like that come up exclusively for
women here,” said Clare Kingsley ’13, who painted trim during the early
March workday. “Participating was a good chance to get involved in the
community.” Kingsley said she’s planning to look into opportunities to
volunteer with Habitat after she graduates.
Maj. Kathy Tomlin, director of purchasing and disbursements, also
said she’s looking forward to continued involvement with Habitat. “With
VMI our attitude of course is one of service, and I thought this would
be a really good opportunity for me to participate,” Tomlin noted.
“In my current job, I don’t have a whole lot of interaction with
cadets,” she continued. “There were three female cadets working
with me hanging siding, so we froze together. It was kind of a bonding
Tomlin has signed up for all of this spring’s workdays, and while she’s
hoping for warmer temperatures on subsequent outings, she’s game for
whatever comes along. “I'll do whatever they need me to do,” she said.