Crews grade the front of property job site.
For Joseph Joyce, owner of Joe Joyce Excavating Inc. a site work/foundation business in Braintree, Mass., one of the teeming suburbs which surround crowded Boston, Mass., it has always been about children.
For 14 years, Joyce, an Irish immigrant, has worked on more than 20 separate projects for Boston’s Habitat for Humanity, the popular charity that builds homes and shelters for the poor and needy.
More often than not, according to George O’Malley, director of projects of Habitat for Humanity, Greater Boston, Joyce has offered his excavation, demolition, foundation building, site work, utility work and other services for free or at a fraction of the cost.
“Joe Joyce Excavating Inc. has been our excavator for many years. He is our ’go-to guy’ for all matters civil. He discounts his services to us beyond what would be normally expected; oftentimes, forgetting to send us a bill at all,” said O’Malley. “He provides the equipment and manpower for excavation and utility work as well as the guidance for installation and design of same. Due to liability issues, only personnel of Joyce Excavation can participate in this phase of construction.”
Empty Since 1968
Joyce and Habitat worked with an army of other volunteers assembled through building contractors and the community on the Blue Hills project. This massive commercial enterprise took seven years to complete, but has been 45 years in the making.
Blue Hill Place is a parcel of land in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston. When Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, significant turmoil in the form of riots and other unrest broke out in many urban areas throughout the United States.
“This site was the primary location for this turmoil in Boston. As a result of the destruction and damage to the existing buildings, several had to be razed. Sometime later, the city of Boston acquired the parcels and issued an RFP for the land’s redevelopment,” said O’Malley.
Habitat for Humanity, Greater Boston had the preferred proposal and was subsequently awarded the development rights. The Habitat proposal was to develop 24 units of housing and 2,000 sq. ft. (185.8 sq m) of commercial business space.
“Habitat for Humanity does not normally build commercial space, but due to its location and the need for employment opportunities in this neighborhood, the decision was made to include it in our proposal,” said O’Malley. “Due to our manner of construction, our development took longer than what a normal developer would take. We rely on volunteers for the majority of the construction. Professional craftsmen or contractors are used for limited tasks; generally, those requiring special licensing and permits [plumbers, electricians etc.,] or those requiring skill operators of specialized equipment [excavators, asphalt equipment etc.].”
The new homeowners at Blue Hills, who will occupy their own homes for the first time in the United States, come from very diverse backgrounds.
“Some are first generation Americans, others have emigrated from countries such as Somalia, Ethiopia, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, as well as numerous islands within the Caribbean,” said O’Malley.
Joe Joyce knows quite a bit about immigration himself. He emigrated several decades ago from the West of Ireland, a place called Rosmuc in County Galway.
“We grew up out in the sticks,” said Joyce. “My dad had a small construction business in Ireland, an excavating company. Since I was four years old, sitting on his lap, I learned to drive the trucks. I learned all the equipment.”
In 1991, after working as a laborer here and there, he founded Joe Joyce Excavating Inc., which currently has five employees.
Someone Pulls Up to the Curb
In 2000, Joyce was working one of his, “small, little jobs,” as he calls them, when a man pulled up to his work site unexpectedly in his car.
“I’ll tell you the truth, I was walking in Roxbury one day and a man named Paul stopped. He worked for Habitat and he asked me if I was interested in doing some work. I was working on the street and he was driving by,” said Joyce. “I went down to their shop on Wayland Street, [to work on] the first job, and I’ve been there ever since. I’ve been working for Habitat for almost 14 years now, doing general excavating, site work, foundations, some demolition work. I’m only a small company. I don’t build from the ground-up. Other [contractors] do that with the volunteers helping.”
Joyce’s rewards have been more than personal.
“We refer to the building of our homes as a partnership. Not in the legal sense, but rather in the true sense of people working together to a common end,” said O’Malley. “In this particular example [Blue Hills], the partnership includes the homesteader, the affiliate and perhaps, most importantly, the volunteers, vendors and contractors. Most of the latter participate for one or two projects and move on, having ’given back.’ But Joe Joyce is much like the Energizer Bunny and keeps going on. He has been consistently there for us. As a small token of our admiration for his service to us, Joe was awarded the prestigious ’Golden Hammer Award’ for service well beyond the norm.”
Habitat for Humanity Greater Boston has completed in excess of 100 homes.
“We are about to close on the last three units of a total of 24 at Blue Hill Place. These units will be conveyed in February,” said O’Malley. “Finishing the Blue Hill Place project is another milestone in our journey to help eradicate poverty housing in the greater Boston area. We cannot do what we do without people like Joe doing what he does.”
A Lot of Ledge
What Joe Joyce did at Blue Hills was take the better part of three months just breaking through unyielding stone layers beneath the street.
“There was a lot of ledge, a lot of ledge. We had a breaker; it was our large excavator with a 5,000-lb. hammer on it. It took at least three months to do the excavating, and the water and sewer. They were all brand new buildings they put up. I don’t put up buildings. It had been a vacant lot. There were trees there. The city of Boston wanted to dig out the trees and replant them. They didn’t want to kill the trees. Years ago, there was a cinema there. We came upon the foundation of the cinema when we were digging,” Joyce said. “But all we found was just a lot of old bottles and a lot of ledge.”
Joe Joyce is one stone in a ledge of volunteers.
“Over the course of a year, we will host between 1500 and 2000 individuals, said O’Malley. “Volunteers come from businesses, fraternal groups, religious organizations school groups and individuals. Due to insurance regulations, our volunteers cannot participate in the excavation processes.”
When the final touches are put on Blue Hills Place in February, Habitat for Humanity will be building six units in another section of Boston, called Roslindale. “We are also rehabbing two units in the Mattapan section of Boston. Our newest project will break ground on Woodbine Street in Roxbury as soon as the weather allows. In fact, a view of the project will show Joe’s brand of backhoe on site and ready to go,” said O’Malley.
Joe Joyce will lend a hand, of course, as he did on similar projects in South Boston, on Wayland Street, in Newton.
“Oh, I have done about, at least, 20 projects for Habit for Humanity. This job was a big, big job. But I mostly do little things, here and there. I think it’s a great charity. I really enjoy it, I really do,” Joyce said. “It’s a great, great organization. A lot of people should donate as much as they can to it. Everybody is in a great mood, smiling. I think it’s great.”
“We believe that the elimination of poverty housing is everyone’s responsibility and that we are here to facilitate this,” said O’Malley. “Our vision is a world where everyone has a decent place to live. We cannot do this without the help of great people like Joe Joyce and his crew. We want to say, ’thank you,’ and remember, we can’t do what we do without our volunteers and donors doing what they do.”
With childhood memories of sitting on his Dad’s lap, learning how to move dirt with an adult-sized excavator still fresh in his mind, Joe Joyce employs his skills for other children now.
“My favorite thing about this is when you see the kids go into the houses. They are all happy, everyone is smiling. I think it’s a good thing. I enjoy seeing the kids and their families get their houses. Sometimes, I’ll just give my services if it’s not costing me any money. I’ll work weekends, or on a Saturday. If they ask me to do something, I kind of do it on my own time. I have no problem doing it.”
Habitat for Humanity, Greater Boston is always in need of skilled companies and contractors to donate or, at least, deeply discount their products or services. Every dollar that they don’t spend on today’s project allows them to build tomorrow. For more information, call 617/423-2223 or visit www.habitatboston.org.
Joe Joyce Excavating Inc. is located at 21 Huntley Road in Braintree, Mass.