January 31, 2005

Cornellians Help Build Homes

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Every Saturday, around 10 volunteers head away from the Cornell campus to Habitat for Humanity work sites. Because the Tompkins and Cortland County Habitat for Humanity branch has recently been rebuilding itself, most of the past year has been spent on site in Tioga County. The current project, a two-story, seven-person home, should be finished within a month or two.

“[This work] is a really big change from being on campus, in the isolated world of Cornell,” said Cornell Habitat for Humanity chapter president Shannon Wheeler ’06.

Habitat for Humanity International has been in existence since 1976. The organization provides housing for those in serious need. In return, the families must work three hundred to five hundred hours on their and other homes for Habitat, a process called “Sweat Equity.” Because of this, volunteers are able to work alongside members of the family. Habitat board members spoke of the reward of being able to see the improvement in a house in one day. “[Habitat is] one of those things you really don’t get the full effect of until you do it,” said former Cornell Habitat president Jon Sessa ’07.

Though the community service work may seem intensive, there are no skills required to work for Habitat. Additionally, contractors work as supervisors on every site.

The International organization does little of the everyday work for local chapters.

“The organization is inherently grass roots because every affiliate is run by community members,” Sessa said.

Habitat chapters have four main responsibilities: education about affordable housing, raising funds locally and internationally, advocating for Habitat and supplying labor. The Cornell chapter does many programs in addition to the weekly work trips. In cooperation with the Emergency Medical Services and the Red Cross, they raised about $2,000 on campus in tsunami relief funds. They have also brought guest speakers and lecture panels to speak on campus. The lecture panels generally consist of community members and faculty involved in Habitat.

Every spring, Habitat runs Truss Days on Ho Plaza, building roof trusses that will later be loaded onto flatbeds and send to work sites. This exercise not only raises awareness of Habitat on campus but also allows anyone to help with the project for a few minutes.

For four years, Cornell Habitat has been running a dodgeball tournament in May. This event is their largest fundraiser of the year. The tournament consists of 36 teams of 10 people and raised around $1,000 last year.

“The dodgeball isn’t about the sports competition, it’s about raising money and having fun,” said Wheeler.

Spring break trips, which have been run by Habitat since its inception at Cornell in 1989, are another important part of the Cornell Habitat chapter. This year five trips of fourteen students each will be held in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and South Carolina. The trips involve a week of intensive building during which a very large amount of progress can be made. Habitat members also said that the trips generally create a tight bond among those attending, who tend to greatly enjoy the experience.

“People always said they would go again,” said Sessa.

The Cornell Habitat electronic mailing list totals around 1,000 students, with about 300 students participating each year. The majority of the money for Habitat for Humanity at Cornell comes from direct fundraising. The weekly trips consist of an average of 10 volunteers. These numbers change weekly, and board members said that they are trying to expand the organization. They also said that they receive many requests from fraternities, sororities and other groups to organize group trips to Habitat sites. There has been a recent movement within Cornell Habitat to try to give these groups a broader understanding of the organization than the work trip alone can give them.

“When a volunteer only works Saturday afternoon, he or she doesn’t get an idea of the whole organization,” Sessa said.

Archived article by Rebecca Shoval
Sun Staff Writer