While some Cornell students spent their spring breaks sunning themselves in the tropics, others spent their time volunteering. The Cornell Chapter of Habitat for Humanity sent five student-led volunteer groups to building sites in Johns Island, S.C.; Charleston, S.C.; Valdosta, Ga.; Jacksonville, Fla.; and Washington D.C. to participate in the Collegiate Challenge Program.
The Cornell students worked with Americorps volunteers, Habitat for Humanity homeowners, local volunteers, and other collegiate groups as they helped build the Habitat for Humanity homes in every step of the building process, from digging ditches and laying the foundations of the homes to roofing and insulation.
According to the web site for Habitat for Humanity International, the Collegiate Challenge Program began in 1989 and “is one of the country’s largest year-round alternative break programs. More than 9,000 high school and college students participated in Collegiate Challenge during Spring Break 2001, while an additional 1,100 students participated during other seasons this past year.”
Stephanie Judd ’05, the Habitat for Humanity Spring Break coordinator and co-leader of the Charleston Trip, began planning the trips early in the semester. Judd organized two informational meetings in early Feb. for people interested in participating. She also set up a lottery system to determine where students would be placed.
“We basically had everything set by March 1,” Judd explained. “After the trips were determined the student leaders of each trip took over from there.”
According to Judd, the student leaders needed no prior Habitat volunteer experience, and their responsibilities included communicating with the Collegiate Challenge Team and host affiliate, arranging transportation, and orienting other volunteers with the workings of the project. The cost of the trips varied from $200 to $350 per person, depending on whether the students provided their own transportation or rented vans. Included in the cost was a $90 donation to the Habitat for Humanity local affiliate.
The 13 person Charleston group worked alongside groups from the University of Vermont and the University of Wisconsin in the Rosewood Development of downtown Charleston, a unique Habitat neighborhood designed specifically by the American Institute of Architecture.
Pam Spier ’03 participated in the Charleston trip.
“Habitat for Humanity was an amazing experience. I really enjoyed volunteering my time to build houses for a great cause and spending time exploring an unfamiliar city. Killing the University of Vermont group in a Ben and Jerry’s Vermonster Contest was also an added bonus,” Spier said.
The Charleston group also spent time exploring downtown Charleston with the Cornell students from the Johns Island trip located fifteen minutes away. The 12 person Johns Island trip was led by Habitat for Humanity President Matthew Moake ’04.
The Johns Island affiliate, Sea Island Habitat for Humanity celebrated its 25th anniversary on March 15, and the Johns Island group participated in the celebration. Habitat for Humanity President and founder Millard Fuller spoke, along with “numerous homeowners, volunteers, and other people whose lives had been touched and benefited by the actions of Habitat,” Moake explained. “I think I speak for the whole group when I say that it was a truly moving experience to see how influential Habitat could be by building safe, quality communities for people to live in.”
Deborah Sunter ’06 co-led the nine person Jacksonville Beach, Fla. trip along with Ming Ni ’06. Before heading to Fla., Sunter participated in one local work trip.
“This trip really gave me a great opportunity to get involved with Habitat at a higher level,” Sunter explained. The Jacksonville Beach group worked at four different sites, and their work ranged from building foundations to roofing and installing windows.
The 13 person group that traveled to Valdosta, Ga. stayed in two cabins at a local camp sight and worked at a Habitat for Humanity warehouse building various parts to be used later in the building process, such as walls and doors.
Seth Green ’06 participated in the Valdosta trip and enjoyed touring Crescent Mansion in Valdosta during the group’s free time.
“This was my first trip to Ga. and my first time on a 20 hour car ride,” Green said. “I got a lot of mosquito bites and met a lot of new people. It was a really great experience.”
The Washington D.C. trip was led by Craigsky Johnson ’04 and geographical coordinator Dan Tischler ’03. The group worked on roofing, siding, and according to Matthew Nagowski ’05, “applying extremely thick and gloppy glue to drywall” on a two house sight in the south side of Washington D.C. The Washington D.C. trip was also fortunate to have a delicious dinner of lasagna provided by the generous Cornell Club of Washington D.C.
This was the first Habitat for Humanity trip for Nagowski. “One of the great things about doing a spring break trip for Habitat is you can have all of the fun and excitement that students have on a ‘traditional’ spring break trip while also helping to address the social difficulties of our nation — a perfectly Cornellian mix of pleasure, work, and social responsibility,” Nagowski said.
The group received a warm welcome from the Americorps team working at the sight and developed an intimate relationship with the team by the end of the week. Dan P. Moore, a Cincinnati native and Americorps volunteer, explained that “working with the Cornell kids was like eating a Tootsie Roll. They are hard as rock on the outside, but once you get to the middle they’re all sweet and pleasant.”
William and Mary graduate Andy Dietrich ’02, also an Americorps volunteer, added that the Cornell group “arrived as amateurs and left us as professionals. I’m so proud.”
Archived article by Sarah Workman