Senior Nursing Major Kirstin Smedstad is full of life and wants to make a difference in the world. During her first year at Gustavus, she became involved in Habitat for Humanity by going on the Spring Break Work Trip to New Orleans, LA. This was a way for Kirstin to become involved on campus and meet new people. But most importantly, it helped her to feel connected to her uncle who passed away during the end of her high school career.
Kirstin’s uncle was a general contractor for a large commercial construction company, and she felt connected to him because she was involved in something that he supported. After Kirstin’s first Spring Break Work Trip, she decided to become more involved in the program and in her sophomore year she was a group leader for the spring break work trip to Mobile, AL.
“One of my most memorable moments volunteering for Habitat was my sophomore year in Mobile, AL. When we arrived on site the first day there was only a slab of concrete. By the time the week was over the house was completely framed, ready for windows, shingles and siding. It is amazing how much can get done in one week if everyone has the right mindset and is putting their all into something they believe in,” Kirstin said.
During Kirstin’s junior year, she had the role of being the site coordinator for the trip to Beaumont, TX. “It was a huge undertaking because I did all of the planning for the trip! I was also on the Habitat Executive Board and was in charge of special events coordinating,” Kirstin said.
This year Kirstin is one of the co-presidents for the Executive Board and will be going on the Spring Break Work Trip to Miami,FL as a group leader. “[Kirstin] is a leader not only in her classes, but also on campus. She has a huge heart and is always willing to help,” Senior Nursing Major Jenn Syverson said.
Habitat is a Christian-based organization that relies on volunteers to build houses. Families that receive a Habitat house have to go through a long application process, and once they are approved they are required to work on other homes that are being built or restored. The required hours are called sweat equity hours. Owners of a Habitat house still pay regular bills, but their mortgage is greatly reduced.
“It is cool because the homeowners put a lot of work into their homes, so they take a lot of pride in their homes and work hard for other people as well. Habitat also benefits from the sweat equity hours in that they don’t have to pay for labor. Because the homeowners work on their homes or others’ homes, it also allows the volunteers to talk with them and learn about their story. All around everyone benefits, and it is a really well thought out organization,” Kirstin said.
A typical day on a work trip involves working on a site from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on projects like roofing, framing, painting and many others. During this work time, students have an opportunity to get to know some of the owners and learn more about them. One of the highlights of participating in a work trip is learning about the owner’s experience and seeing the difference you are making, while working alongside them.
“It is important for students to volunteer with Habitat because it allows them to gain real life skills, meet new people and understand that we have all been given a great gift: coming to Gustavus and getting a great education, having a home to live in, food to eat and clothes to keep us warm during the windy winters on campus,” Kirstin said.
The applications for this year’s Spring Break Work Trips are due on Dec. 11 and it is an opportunity to volunteer.
“I like Habitat because it is a great opportunity to be involved with something that I truly believe in. I love the mission of the organization and what it stands for. I love the ability to meet other students and travel to different places both around the St. Peter area and the throughout the U.S.,” Kirstin said.
Kirstin is passionate about helping others, which is reflected in her choice of study: nursing. She has always known that she has wanted to be in the medical field, and when she was younger she wanted to be a neonatologist, but realized she would like to have a more personal and caring relationship with patients, which led her to choose nursing as her major.
“At some point in my nursing career, hopefully sooner than later, I would like to go to Africa and spend at least a month volunteering in a rural clinic or hospital. It has always been a dream of mine to volunteer in an area that so greatly needs our help,” Kirstin said.