Retirees find meaning volunteering for Habitat for Humanity


Some of the “Thursday Regulars” – (l to r) Ken Lajoie, Ray DeSantis and Lee Cooprider


By Jane Keller Gordon, Contributing Writer

Region – When Lee Cooprider of Stow became part of the “Thursday Regulars,” he knew that he had found a good place to volunteer. Usually with eight others – mostly men – Cooprider spends most Thursdays building houses for Habitat for Humanity North Central Massachusetts.

“Zero, zip, nada, squadoosh,” is he how he described his construction experience before volunteering for Habitat 10 years ago. He said that he’s learned a lot of skills along the way, but always needs direction.

Cooprider is a former university faculty member, high-tech software engineer, and math teacher at Concord-Carlisle High School. He retired five years ago.

He has worked on almost a dozen Habitat houses.

“The most interesting thing about doing this construction is the fellowship of the group,” said Cooprider.

“Thursday Regulars” Ray DeSantis and Ken Lajoie, who both live in Sterling, share Cooprider’s sentiment.

Lajoie retired about five years ago after a company that he helped start was sold to eBay. He has taken volunteering at Habitat so seriously that he is now a licensed contractor.

During his college years, Lajoie held summer jobs as a roofer and a homebuilder. That experience, plus his time with Habitat, enabled Lajoie to sit for the contractor’s exam.

The license allows him to take charge and deal with town inspectors when Habitat’s construction manager Vincent Benincasa is not at the job site. Sometimes Lajoie volunteers three to four days a week when Benincasa is away.

Lajoie is at a site almost every Thursday, and in the winter, on another day as well. He said that he enjoys using his management skills when school, church and business groups volunteer.

“I’ve always had the philosophy that it’s easy to give money to charity, it’s a lot more difficult and valuable to give your time and skills,” he said. “We’re all in the same situation – we have a big heart and want to give back to people.”

Lajoie brought DeSantis into the “Thursday Regulars.” Both members of the Sterling National Golf Course, they once chatted on the course about the importance of having at least one scheduled event a week during retirement.

DeSantis, who retired five years ago from Commerce Insurance, said, “Like many of my peers, I was nervous about retiring. How am I going to fill my days? I had been working nonstop.”

Habitat made a lot of sense for DeSantis. He had learned construction from a neighbor when he was growing up.

“I know how to use a hammer and a saw,” he said.

Plus his father, who was a plumber, had been a Habitat volunteer.

DeSantis has worked on seven Habitat houses over the past five years. He doesn’t volunteer in the winter since he is an avid skier.

It’s about much more than construction for DeSantis.

“Everyone has a responsibility in their life to be aware of other people around them and their needs,” he said. “This project cuts across religion and other things, and addresses one of the basic needs that people require, housing.”

The group is currently working on a project in Ayer – a two-family house, each section with three bedrooms and one-and-a-half baths. Families who qualify to purchase a Habitat house are required to volunteer during the construction. Cooprider, DeSantis and Lajoie have not met the families who will live in the Ayer house since they are usually there during weekends, according to DeSantis. But that doesn’t mean that they have any less on a connection.

In one of the sections of the Ayer house, the walls are finished; in the other they are framed. Many volunteers have written notes and signed their names on the studs in the house with unfinished walls. One says, “Faith I hope that you enjoy your new home.”

For information about volunteering, visit or contact Clare Anderson-Felton, volunteer services, Habitat for Humanity North Central Massachusetts at 978-348-2749, ext. 205, or

Photos/Jane Keller Gordon

Habitat construction site in Ayer
Habitat construction site in Ayer
Volunteers’ signatures on a stud at the Ayer construction site
Volunteers’ signatures on a stud at the Ayer construction site