This past week I had the opportunity to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity during my Spring Break. This trip was apart of the Collegiate Challenge which is like an alternative break for college students, I was the trip organizer and team leader for my organization, Charles R Drew Pre-Health Society. What I took away from this experience was more than just learning to build a house, I saw the kindness of others, the power of team work, and the good of humanity.
Here is a short video of the experience:
What is Habitat for Humanity?
Habitat for Humanity is a non-profit organization whose mission is to eliminate substandard housing by building homes, communities, and hope. There is a big misconception about Habitat for Humanity which is that they give away houses to those who need one, this actually isn't true. The houses being built are being bought by the homeowner, and each homeowner goes through a process to be accepted. This organization really focuses on those lower middle class people who can't afford other options for housing. Through the use of volunteers Habitat for Humanity is able to save money on the house building process and offer these homebuyers a really affordable mortgage and the opportunity to be a homeowner. Every homeowner also has to put in 250 hours of volunteering, so this encourages this cycle of everyone helping each other.
It is really touching to know that we were able to be a helping part in that process. We met the homeowner of the house we were building, an older woman names Kathryn, and she was so thankful for our willingness to spend our Spring Break working on her house. I reflected a lot on this organization's mission statement and the impact that it has on people, owning a home is such a privilege that many people don't have the opportunity to have. The house we were working on was the 108th home built in Harford and Cecil County!
What's crazy is that I didn't know that there was a Habitat for Humanity in Harford County so close to my house! It is a great community service opportunity for those who live nearby and I hope this blog post will encourage you to volunteer.
Day 1: Sanding and Painting
We started our first day at 7:30 am for a welcome breakfast. We would be spending the week volunteering with a group from Cecil College. I wasn't sure what stage in the construction process we would be at, as we pulled up to the location we saw an empty lot with some stacks of wood and I was nervous that we would be quite literally building the house from the starting point. But as we were greeted by the volunteer coordinator, we found that the house was actually behind us and close to being done, as you see below.
Once inside we were greeted by the site supervisor and an overview of what we would be doing for the day. Our main task was to sand all the walls and then paint them.
This took up most of the day as we had to sand and paint the ceilings as well. By the end my arms were aching and I really had an appreciation for the people who do this everyday! While we waited for the paint to dry we headed outside for lunch and then did some landscaping. We started to chat with the students from the Cecil College group, we learned that they were apart of the student leadership council and they volunteered with Habitat for Humanity from time to time. They had professors as a part of their group which I thought was really awesome that the professors were volunteering along with the students.
Day 2 : Landscaping
On the second day, most of the work that needed to be done was outside of the house. It felt so cool to put on a hard hat and grab a shovel and get to work. We had some stuff to move and then we worked on leveling the ground outside the house, the goal was to create a slope going away from the house so that when it rained the water would flow away from the house. We had a great time working outside, we talked and laughed and even had a dance party!
By the end of the day my back was killing me which again made me feel really appreciative of the people who do this hard labor every day. The best feeling was looking at our results at the end of the day and seeing how our work led to the finished product.
Day 3: The ReStore
Since the weather was extremely rainy, we spent the third day volunteering at the ReStore in Aberdeen. The ReStore is like a goodwill for construction, they have building materials, all types of furniture, and even books. They accept donations and sell them at affordable prices.
Most of our work at the ReStore was offloading a delivery of furniture for the store, we took them off the truck, unboxed them, and set them out in the store for the costumers. I was in awe at how hard the staff there worked, it looked like they never got tired! I was also really touched by all the volunteers who were at the store to help, including those with special needs who helps us clean the furniture. The ReStore is an important part in the Habitat for Humanity mission and they have great quality material for costumers. If you are in the area I encourage you to stop by before going to other name brand stores.
The above graphic shows how the restore builds communities, helps the environments, and helps us build more houses!
This touching letter from the children of a Habitat for Humanity homebuyer.
The secrets of the ReStore! This is really a great place to volunteer, you can work a shift and help out this great community store.
Day 4: The Kitchen
After a day at the ReStore I was excited to go back to the build site and see what progress we could make on our last day. The focus for this day was to put up the kitchen cabinets. I was a little nervous because I never did anything close to this task before and I was afraid of messing it up, but it turned out to be a lot of fun!
First we looked at the layout of what the kitchen was supposed to look like and mapped out the room by writing on the wall which cabinet went where. Next we had to find the studs in the wall, which is the pieces of wood that we need to put our screws into, these are found 16 inches apart from each other. Once we thought we found a stud we did a hammer and nail test to make sure it was there. If your nail can be easily pushed and pulled out then you hit dry wall, but if it is stuck in there then you hit the stud. Once we found these we made marks and did some more measurements so we knew exactly how to hang up the cabinets.
Putting up the cabinets required at least 3 people, we took turned holding up the cabinet and drilling in the screws. Some screws went in really easily and some took so much effort. One problem we ran into was stripping, this is when the power tool drill is just rubbing against the nail and damaging it, at one point we saw sparks because of the metal on metal friction which was a crazy moment! But after a while we understood what stripping was and got better at avoiding it.
One of the best parts of this whole experience was the process of working together towards a common goal. I was so surprised at how capable I was at doing this kind of work, our site supervisor was also impressed. He said he never had a woman work for his company and so it was really awesome to see all the women on our volunteer team do all this work. It felts great to combat these gender stereotypes for others and for myself! Having just finished the Gender Unit in my Sociology course I saw these stereotypes much more clearly than before. Whenever there is something to be fixed in the house I always let my brothers do it, as if it is a guys job and guys are good with tools, but now I want to do it myself because I know that I am just as capable! Maybe I'll even help out with some of the construction when I have a house one day!
Here is a before and after look at the kitchen. We finished all the hanging cabinets, and the next volunteer group will pick up where we left off by setting all the bottom cabinets.
I was actually really sad that our last day was upon us and I had to say goodbye to all these amazing people that I had met! This experience showed me the amazing power of team work and community. I thought to myself, what if we all did things like this more; helping to build a strangers house, lending a helping hand to our neighbors, coming together as a community to work towards a common goal. The world would definitely be a better place and this is why community service is so important. There is no better feeling than the feeling of helping others!
Thank you Habitat for Humanity for hosting us, teaching us, and letting us be apart of your mission. Thanks to my fellow Charles R Drew members who spent their Spring Break volunteering, you all will be great doctors/dentists one day! Thanks to the volunteers of Cecil College who were so kind, it was great getting to know you and work alongside you. And thanks to all the other volunteers who give their free time to help others. I can't wait to see how Kathryn's house turns out!
If you are interested in volunteering for Habitat for Humanity visit their website here:
Collegiate Challenge: https://www.habitat.org/volunteer/travel-and-build/collegiate-challenge
Habitat for Humanity Susquehanna: https://habitatsusq.org
Aberdeen Restore: https://habitatsusq.org/restore/