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ST. MARY’S CITY, Md. (June 8, 2009) – For most college students, spring break is a time to relax and take a break from the grind of classes and assignments, but for members of the Habitat for Humanity Club at St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM), the week-long vacation is an opportunity for volunteer service. Sixteen students from the club packed into two vans and drove to Greenville, Ga., where they and members of the local community worked for six days to construct a house for a deserving family.
St. Mary’s College of Maryland junior Gina Nearing (back) and senior Katie Cain (front), president of the College’s Habitat for Humanity Club, put up siding as the build project nears completion. (Photo: Jennifer Slomski)
“This Collegiate Challenge trip was the most productive that we've had so far!” said club president Katie Cain ‘09, of Sayville, N.Y. “We had the opportunity to work on the house from the concrete foundation to the roof. I am extremely proud of the effort and teamwork our group contributed to building a home that will be appreciated by Jennifer, a first-time homeowner, and her two sons.”
The Collegiate Challenge was established by Habitat for Humanity International to allow students to participate in a service-oriented activity during their spring break instead of going home or to the beach. A total of 106 SMCM students have participated over the last six years, traveling to Miami, Fla., Myrtle Beach, S.C., Birmingham, Ala., Mobile, Ala., and twice to Greenville, Ga.
Typically, groups travel to new locations each year, but SMCM has begun to take a new approach by building an ongoing relationship with the small community of Greenville, which has fully supported the group’s efforts there by offering its traditional “Southern hospitality.” “The treatment we receive is unlike any other either I or the other habitat members have received at other habitat builds,” said sophomore Monica Powell, of Rockville, Md. “In a town smaller than the population of our college, when we are down there, we are quite literally treated like local celebrities. Each meal was served at the various churches and community members’ homes. Apparently there were so many volunteers that they had to turn people away. One woman even offered to do our laundry two times that week!”
It’s not all luxury, of course. During the week, the students were housed in two grain silos—one for the guys, and one for the girls—that were converted into six-story dormitories by their host family. The silos also provided habitat to a variety of insects, wasps, and a few bats, which some of the students worked to relocate to the outdoors. Nevertheless, Powell, who will soon be taking over as president of the club, described the silos as “quite charming,” and said she looks forward to returning to them next year.
In addition to the Collegiate Challenge trip, the SMCM Habitat club organizes other on-campus events throughout the year and partners with the Patuxent chapter of Habitat for Humanity (HFH) on local builds. Students also volunteer at the Patuxent HFH ReStore, a store that accepts donations of lightly used appliances, furniture, etc., and sells them for a fraction of market price. Last fall the club arranged a pancake dinner to raise funding for Habitat for Humanity, and this spring it organized “Act! Speak! Build! Week,” a nationally recognized week of awareness and advocacy about poverty and homelessness.
Of all of these services the club provides, however, the Collegiate Challenge trip holds a special place in the hearts of the student volunteers. “I believe the Habitat trip was a life-changing experience for every single person involved,” said sophomore Sara Kidd, of Baltimore, Md. “We built a deserving family a home; we made new friends in a town that has become as close to our hearts as our own hometowns; and most of all, we did it all as a family. We grew individually as we grew together, and created this great, awesome thing in the process. Who would have thought a bunch of college kids could make such progress in a week!”
Monica Powell shared one of favorite memories from the trip: “On the first day of our build, we noticed that the family next door (last year's habitat house recipient) had created a make-shift doghouse out of an overturned garbage can. At the end of the week, with some of the leftover scraps we had from the site, we built the dog a brand-new wooden doghouse, complete with a sign that read ‘We hope you enjoy your new habitat doghouse! Love, St. Mary's College of Maryland.’”