By Greg Dool
The international non-profit organization Habitat for Humanity has recognized the University’s chapter with the 2012 Build Louder Award, citing the chapter’s efforts to support the organization’s mission by improving access to adequate and affordable housing and reducing poverty.
“It certainly is an honor to be recognized out of all the campus chapters around the country,” said Campus Ministry employee and Habitat for Humanity staff adviser Tim O’Connell. “I think it demonstrates that the University’s chapter is respected at a national level because of our strong programming.”
Representatives of the University’s chapter were presented with the Build Louder Award at the National Youth Leadership Conference on Nov. 3 in Atlanta, Ga.
The University joins previous winners, which include Dartmouth College and various county or local chapters across the nation.
Accepting the award was chapter co-presidents Katie Campbell and Melissa Grenier, and joining them was executive board member Patrick Dillon.
The University’s Habitat for Humanity chapter is active throughout the school year, both locally and abroad.
According to the University chapter’s mission statement, they seek to raise awareness of poverty and homelessness.
They do this through coordination with the local Montgomery County chapter and by taking trips to other chapters throughout the country.
During this past fall break nearly 200 students took service trips at their own expenses to 12 locations throughout the United States to build houses for Habitat for Humanity.
Destinations included El Paso, Texas, Birmingham, Ala., Winston-Salem, N.C., Eastern Shore, Va. and Tutweiler, Miss., where 39 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, among several others.
“We were able to make significant progress on three different houses while witnessing poverty and getting to know those affected by it,” said senior Shelby Lynch, who volunteered on the Tutweiler trip. “Although I knew it existed, it was still surprising to see that level of poverty in my own country.”
These break trips, which occur during both fall and spring breaks, require students to cook and clean for themselves in relatively modest accommodations.
Most students who participate return with more than just a T-shirt and the goodwill of the people they help, forging strong friendships and reflecting nightly on their experiences.
“It’s always interesting to see a group of strangers come together for one week to learn and accomplish so much,” Lynch said. “The people of Tutweiler were not bitter or resentful, but welcoming. They remained close, keeping in mind the things that are most important: friends and family.”
At home, the University’s Habitat for Humanity chapter is just as active.
Last year, they initiated a “Blitz Build” in coordination with Montgomery County’s chapter to rebuild a house in Norristown.
Additionally, Friday and Saturday day-long build trips within the county are available for small groups of students throughout the semester.
“[The University’s] chapter does not simply focus on building but education and advocacy as well,” O’Connell said. “These are critical components of Habitat’s mission that enhance their effectiveness in responding to substandard housing globally.”
O’Connell mentioned that students produced a guide that focused on housing issues for low-income residents, and that a panel discussion convened between a county official from Montgomery County, representatives of Habitat for Humanity in Philadelphia and a local owner of a Habitat home.
All of these factors likely contributed to the University’s recognition in early November. By not only physically building both at home and around the country, but also providing outreach, advocacy and raising awareness, the University’s Habitat for Humanity chapter truly embodies the overarching organization’s mission.
Founded in Georgia in 1976, Habitat for Humanity International is a non-profit organization which self-identifies as a Christian ministry.
Since its inception, the organization has helped build over 500,000 houses and serves as an advocacy group, working with local government and legislators to increase affordable homeownership and reduce poverty.
“Once I started working with [Habitat for Humanity], I went back for two more week-long service trips, and a fourth this past spring,” said senior Joe Huggard. “The people that work with Habitat are some of the most inspiring people I have ever met. The communities that I have been to have created an atmosphere that has helped to make Habitat one of the best organizations I have ever been a part of.”