Last summer, the sound of saws, drills, hammers and other tools could be heard coming from the vicinity of UCI’s carpenter shop long after the workday had ended, and even on weekends. It was the sound of Facilities Management staff members donating their free time and trade skills to Project Playhouse, a benefit for HomeAid Orange County’s shelter development program. The group received the spring 2007 Living Our Values team award for raising the roof – and UCI’s profile, as a university with empathy for others and commitment to the community.

The playhouse, UCI’s first contribution to the annual fundraiser, took the better part of a year to plan and three months to build. The crew invested about 800 hours of their combined time, coming in as early as 4 a.m. to work on the house.

“Participating in Project Playhouse gave us the opportunity to use our skills for a good cause, and allowed us to showcase our talents,” said Bill Mitchell, supervising carpenter who organized the effort.

Theirs was no ordinary plywood hangout. Rather, it was a Cape Cod charmer on a mini scale, complete with dormer windows, porch swing, inside loft and Dutch door. The crew solicited donations from individuals and local businesses, which allowed them to deck out the 8-by-10-foot interior with a rock fireplace (featuring a faux electric fire), a flat-screen TV, DVD, Xbox, children’s furniture, teddy bears and tea cups, and a tiny kitchen (equipped with a couple of stuffed lobsters). Their “Fun at the Cape Escape” playhouse was auctioned at Fashion Island for $40,000 in October.

“Working for a common cause like HomeAid brought the group together,” said Brian Grochow, electrical supervisor. “It helped us get to know each other better.”

HomeAid builds and renovates temporary shelters for Orange County residents who find themselves homeless due to sudden job loss, catastrophic illness, spousal desertion or domestic violence. By building their playhouse, the team helped provide real shelters for the homeless.

In addition to Mitchell and Grochow, the team includes Hipolito Barrera, mason; Roger Beaty, assistant supervising carpenter; Kevin Brown, carpenter; Rhonda Espinosa, customer service representative; Michael Guerra, carpenter; Scott Pribyl, carpenter; and Corey Turpin, painter.

“It’s an honor to associate our campus and its staff with such an inspirational endeavor, and (the team’s) contribution should be a source of pride for the entire campus community,” wrote James Hay, facilities management assistant vice chancellor, in his letter nominating the group for the Living Our Values award.

Plans are already under way for next year’s playhouse, and even more staff members are lining up to volunteer their skills and time. As Hay put it: “How great is that?”