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Hammers, nails help woman find community in Hall
Nixon volunteers for several organizations
Habitat for Humanity volunteers Ann Nixon, left, Christine Holcomb, center, and Dee Ann Whitenton work out measurements for a tile floor Friday inside a house on Lanier Springs Drive in Gainesville. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

The giving spirit

Each day this holiday season, The Times will spotlight a person or couple who give of themselves to help others in the community. Today, meet Ann Nixon, who works to empower women with Habitat for Humanity of Hall County.


Donate to Habitat for Humanity of Hall County

Used home items like appliances, furniture and building supplies can be donated to the Habitat ReSTORE, a resale outlet at 1612 Skelton Road in Gainesville. Monetary donations can also be dropped off at the ReSTORE, and donators can indicate if they want the money to go specifically to Women Build.

Donate online
How to volunteer

On Fridays and Saturdays, Ann Nixon's attire doesn't change much.

She's usually wearing carpenter pants, boots, a tool belt — stocked with a hammer, nails and screwdriver — and a T-shirt emblazoned with "Women Build."

She's not afraid to get dirty or try something she's never done before, one of the reasons Dee Ann Whitenton sees her as a star volunteer for Habitat for Humanity of Hall County.

"(Nixon) does everything. She is enthusiastic and she loves it," said Whitenton, past president of the organization's Board of Directors. "She will get on the very top part of the scaffolding, with a wee bit of fear, and she'll climb the real tall ladder. She is very good with the volunteers. ... It's nice to have someone who will take a volunteer or two and say, ‘Let me teach you how to do this.'"

Nixon, originally from Toronto, moved to the area with her family about 18 years ago. She was familiar with Habitat but did not get involved at first.

"Dee Ann organized a ‘Tool Time.' We went to Howard Brothers in Oakwood and you could come and learn to use drills and saws and all that kind of stuff," Nixon said. "I thought, ‘I love this. This is so much fun to play with all of these tools.'"

After her initial introduction to the program, Nixon joined the Women Build group on Browns Bridge Road three years ago. She also worked last year on a house in Gillsville for the family of Army Spc. Michael Walker, whose home burned to the ground shortly before his return from Afghanistan.

"I worked on that one a lot and I told myself, ‘The next build, I'm working every day.' I was upset when I missed some of the stuff because there were things I wanted to learn to do," Nixon said.

"That's what I've done this year, and it's been so much fun, just a blast."

Her favorite part of construction is framing. The house she's working on, located in a subdivision off Dawsonville Highway, was barely a concrete foundation two months ago. Now it stands as a full one-story building with vinyl siding and a front porch.

"It's so satisfying because physically, you're constantly working so you feel very productive," Nixon said. "You go from having a subfloor to having all the walls up in one day. You just stand back and say, ‘Holy cow.'"

She also enjoys the little things that are part of building a house: making sure the lock on the front door is on correctly, for example.

"A lot of the fine-tuning details are sort of fun. They're mentally taxing because you have to think a couple of steps ahead or you're going to wind up having to tear out some of the work you did because you didn't take something into consideration," Nixon said. "It's a lot more complex than I thought, and I have a far greater respect and appreciation for people who work on construction sites."

Being a part of Women Build has helped Nixon in her own home as well. She loves her chainsaw and sees no reason why she can't take down a tree, just as a man with a similar weight and build could.

"I have worked on my own kitchen cabinetry. I bought my own mitre saw, which I'm very excited about. ... I have a very small roofing project I'm planning on doing in the new year," Nixon said. "I feel like I've learned some paths. I may not have the solution, but I know how to get some of them, and I go into Lowe's and Home Depot with confidence."

The do-it-yourself attitude is a key value to Women Build.

"One of the things I love about Women Build is that women can do this. They can do every bit of this," Nixon said. "As a generality, we don't tend to grow up in an environment that fosters doing these types of things, so we think maybe we can't. It's empowering."

While it can be challenging to create a house without much experience, Nixon said she enjoys learning as she goes. She finds frustration when a task doesn't turn out at first but extreme satisfaction when it finally gets done.

Though she spends the bulk of her time with Habitat, it isn't her only volunteer outlet. She's also on a number of different boards in the community and has a Junior Master Gardener program for third- through fifth-graders at Lakeview Academy.

"I'm not trying to sound like Mother Teresa, but it's being a part of this organization that is making things happen and it's making a huge difference in someone's life and their children's lives," Nixon said.

She's looking forward to being a part of the home unveiling for the house she's currently working on. It'll be her first time seeing the keys turned over.

"Nicole, the homeowner, has been here a couple of times and last Saturday she had her kids," Nixon said. "They're 2 and 6 and they had on little pink hard hats. They were running around helping clean up and they were absolutely adorable. I'll just be thrilled to see her walk through that door and know it's hers."

Living in Toronto, it was hard to find a way to contribute to the community, Nixon said. Though she and her kids have dual citizenship, she said she's glad she found a community here.

"One of the things I've learned so clearly living in Gainesville, when you volunteer here, you see the effects of what you're doing. You see it in small ways and you see it in big ways and it helps weave you into the community," she said. "People are so giving of their time and their talents. I don't feel like I'm a foreigner. I feel like this is home."