82-Year-Old Woman Builds Townhome

Project to help house local families in need


The construction crew outside a town home in National City on Friday featured an array faces; one of which you’ll rarely see at such a scene.

Hammering wood, grouting, painting and more was 82-year-old Jean Wright-Elson who, after supporting the local chapter of Habit for Humanity for 20 years, decided that her skills could be put to better use.

Wright-Elson's interest was sparked after reading a newsletter about Habit for Humanity’s “Women Build” group that planned to construct a townhome for a local family.

“I’ve always been endorsing of the program,” said Wright-Elson. “There are so many people in need of decent housing.”

As she stood outside the home at 1820 G Avenue, it was obvious Wright-Elson, a retired nurse with the United States Air Force, didn't let her age get in the way of what she wanted to do.

“I think we need to let people know that people who are octogenarians can still contribute back to society,” said Wright-Elson.

Friday’s project included tasks such as cutting pipe, moving equipment and adding final touches to the home which is scheduled to be done in December for a family that has yet to be chosen.

Though she was working with the best of them, don’t call Wright-Elson, an “old pro”. The project was her first time doing large-scale home building, she said.

“I think they’re going to be working on sprinklers and I may have trouble getting down to that level” she joked. “So they may have me painting or do some grouting -- however I can contribute. “

Wright-Elson’s message of not acting one’s age wasn’t her only mantra of the day.

As she worked, on her back was a graphic of the sign “Men at Work” with a “wo” and added in red before the first word.

Forget the idea that’s home construction is a man’s job Wright-Elson said.  “Women can do it, we do a lot of home maintenance so we’re capable of doing hammering, sawing and painting.”

“It’s not often we get someone this wise,” said Habitat for Humanity manager and developer, Ellen Immergut.

“Women say ‘what are we going to do’ and once we get them on a site with our crew they realize what kinds of things they are really capable of,” said Immergut.

The Women Build program has created three homes since its launch in June, with just over 100 volunteers, according to Immergut.

So what’s next for Wright-Elson? It seemed only time will tell.

“I’m retired. But I don’t like the word ‘retire’," Wright-Elson said, "I like to tell people I’m regrouping."

Contact Us