Building community by building birdhouses

READING, Pa. - The Berks County Habitat for Humanity's largest fundraiser --  the 'Birdhouse Challenge' -- is nearing the corner,

"This is the second year for the Birdhouse Challenge, and it is something that I think is both a fun event and a way to give back to the community," said Mark Ratcliffe, the development director for Habitat for Humanity.

Roughly 30 elaborate birdhouses are in the works, mimicking Berks County businesses and organizations.

"We'll do a really amazing, fun auction," Ratcliffe said.

The money raised will finance the construction of real homes in the city.

"Birdhouses is really a fun metaphor," said Ratcliffe.

The birdhouses will go up for auction on March 18 at the DoubleTree Hotel in downtown Reading. Event tickets are on sale on the Habitat for Humanity's website.

"Hopefully, they'll make a lot of money for habitat," said John Albright, who worked on his birdhouse.

Russ Westendorf worked as a paramedic, but the retired life keeps him busy. He works on his birdhouse at the Habitat workshop on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He calls his birdhouse the 'Shady Hollow horse barn' after the farm in Birdsboro.

Another woodworker, John Boyer, is building a Reading Liederkranz birdhouse.

"It's better looking than I thought it would be," Boyer said.

"Reading, as you know, is a struggling city and it's the heart of our community. If our heart dies, we die as a community. As we fix Reading, our whole community will grow," Ratcliffe said. 

The birdhouses will go on display at the DoubleTree in the weeks leading up to the event.

Westendorf said it takes patience, delicate work, but the feeling of accomplishment is worth the work.

"I'm waiting to get down there on the 18th of March at the DoubleTree there to see all the finished products. It'll be neat," Westendorf said.

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