SAN JOSE -- Two-year-old Max Shearer just stared with his mouth wide open. Next to him, his older brother, Jacob, excitedly stepped in place. Together, they waited impatiently for employees at NetScout Systems Inc. to pound the final nails into a playhouse roof.

Then, the siblings rushed in to explore their new "home" -- opening windows and doors of the farm-themed structure. It was, they discovered, well-constructed.

"High-tech people can actually do other stuff, too," said Andy Yuan, a NetScout Systems service desk manager, taking in the scene. "This is just the best thing."

About 30 workers at the Silicon Valley company took an afternoon away from the business of information technology Thursday to pick up different tools such as hammers, power drills and paint brushes to build a pair of playhouses for the young children of two local military families. The gifts also were made possible by the Habitat for Humanity East Bay/Silicon Valley and the South Bay Blue Star Moms.

"This is all the kids have been talking about," said Maj. Troy Shearer, of the 63rd regional support command at Moffett Field, as he watched Jacob, 5, show his mom, Dawn, the animals decorated on the playhouse. "When you're in the military and you're moving every three years, it's things like this that show the community really cares about what you're doing."

But 2-year-old Tessa Lam was taking the cautious approach as she warily watched younger sister, Josie, and father Tuong explore the princess-style playhouse the NetScout Systems workers made for them. From a perch in her mother's arm, Tessa decided she would wait until they got it back to their Milpitas home to play inside.

"They're going to love this," assured Jeannie Lam, a tech sergeant in the California Air National Guard. "This is amazing."

That was the consensus.

"The looks on the kids' faces are so special," said Ken Boyd, NetScout Systems chief information officer and lead executive of the San Jose office.

"The smiles make it so worthwhile. You can't put a price on that. Even when you do something special in information technology, like creating a unique piece of code, that feeling just doesn't compare to making kids happy," Boyd said.

Habitat for Humanity builds affordable housing for low-income families. But the local affiliate has discovered an unlikely revenue stream by partnering with companies and civic organizations to build playhouses. The nonprofit provides the tools, prefabricated materials and supervision. Companies such as NetScout Systems provide the manpower and a monetary donation.

Even though this is a busy week at NetScout with new product releases, workers exchanged their laptops for some manual labor. The $4,000 it gave to Habitat for Humanity will go toward the building of real homes. The nonprofit has overseen construction of 350 playhouses since starting four years ago and expects to raise about $300,000 this fiscal year.

"With governmental funding drying up, this has become another source of revenue to help working-class families," said Ted Becker, head of the Playhouse Program. "Companies in Silicon Valley are so philanthropic and want to help. We've never had a group go away unhappy, and we've never had a bad playhouse."

One beneficiary is the Blue Star Moms group, which supports members of the military, veterans and their families. So far, they've received about 50 of the playhouses, and arranged for the two to be given to the Lam and Shearer families.

"For so many of these kids, their moms and dads are gone for so much time," said Jill Carr, of the Blue Star Moms. "This brings a little enjoyment to them."

The adults seemed to have just as much fun. The highlight came when it was the high-tech workers turn to be impatient as they waited to see what the kids thought of the playhouses, which came with "paid in full" faux promissory notes.

"What do we say?" Dawn Shearer asked her sons.

"Thank you," the two boys said shyly in unison.

The response was loud.

"You're welcome."

Contact Mark Emmons at 408-920-5745. Follow him at Twitter.com/markedwinemmons.