DAY OF SERVICE: BCBSNC volunteers give back to community

Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina employees erect an exterior wall for a house while working with
Durham Habitat for Humanity during a Day of Service. 

Keith Upchurch Aug 24, 2016, Herald Sun

DURHAM -- Blue Cross volunteers really nailed it Wednesday by building walls for a Habitat for Humanity home that will go to a family in East Durham.

They hammered away in the Blue Cross and Blue Shield parking lot, gradually turning pieces of lumber into part of a house.

The health insurance company dedicated Wednesday as a day of service to celebrate its campus consolidation on University Drive and commitment to the Durham community.

"I've always wanted to do Habitat for Humanity, but never had time, and I thought this would be a great opportunity," Blue Cross software developer Hannah Knight said as she took a quick break from pounding nails. "It's fun, and once I got the first nails in, I felt better."

Thomas Robbins, a 23-year-old program developer for Blue Cross, said he was "a little nervous" when the wall-building began. But the construction skills he learned as a child in Moore County paid off.

"Someone points and grunts and tells me where to put a nail in, and that's what I do," he said. "It feels great to know we're building someone's future home."

Steve Wood and Eric Smith work to assemble an exterior wall of a house as a part of the Day of Service. 

Gerald Petkau, chief operating officer for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, was far from an armchair observer during the wall assembly. He had begun to work up a sweat, hammer in hand, when the temperature was still in the 70s.

"Habitat does a great job providing homes to those in need," Petkau said. "It's important for us to give back to the community."

Roxanne Little, director of advancement for Durham Habitat, said the walls will be transported to their final resting place at 1208 Alma St. in East Durham, where a family, not yet chosen, will live. The house is expected to be completed by the end of this year.

"Blue Cross and other community members will come out every week to work on it," she said.

Little said the need for affordable housing in Durham is great, with 15,000 Durham residents in substandard housing.

In another part of the Blue Cross campus, volunteers were busy assembling bicycles for some lucky children. Although not everyone had a doctorate in bikeology, progress was steady.

Tony Sylvester, with the USO of North Carolina, said 50 bikes were being assembled for children of military families in North Carolina.

Helping turn bike parts into things of beauty was Brett Russ, a member of the National Guard who flies Blackhawk helicopters.

"It's a way of giving back to the soldiers," Russ said. "There are folks out there who really need it."

At the nearby American Red Cross campus, Penny McCarty was helping stuff backpacks with comfort items destined for homeless veterans in Durham and patients at the VA Medical Center on Erwin Road.

McCarty, a Blue Cross employee who served in the Air Force from 1987 to 1993 during Desert Shield and Desert Storm, said the bags contained razors, toothbrushes, shampoo, soap, combs, ponchos, and a personal note thanking veterans for their service.

"The note reminds them that there's hope," she said.

Stan Morris, executive director of the American Red Cross of Central North Carolina, said the partnership between Blue Cross and Red Cross "makes a tremendous impact on our community. We've got a great community in Durham that comes together to make a difference," Morris said.

Blue Cross volunteers also spent the day building a playground at Crest Park, delivering 50,000 diapers and wipes to the Diaper Bank, giving 160 meals to the Ronald McDonald House, creating hundreds of cards for kids at Duke Children's Hospital, and working on landscaping and cleaning projects in the city.

Contact Keith Upchurch: kupchurch@heraldsun.com919-419-6612

Habitat Success Stories

Worth helped found Durham Habitat as part of his Bible study group. He has volunteered to build hundreds of homes, but if you ask about his role with Habitat, he will take no special credit, saying, "Habitat just fits in with who I am."