In one week, 95 Gustavus students will embark on a journey to one of three different locations to participate in the annual Habitat for Humanity work trip during the College’s spring break from March 27 to April 3, 2010.
The work trip program at Gustavus is a small part of a larger national initiative organized by Habitat for Humanity in 1989, called the Collegiate Challenge. Each year, thousands of college students across the nation participate in the experience at over 250 build sites across the United States. According to Habitat’s website, in the 21 years since the program’s inception, more than 150,000 college students have taken part to help over 1.5 million people worldwide in their daily struggle with poverty.
“The students represent a wide range [of ages], first-years through seniors,” Community Service Center Program Director and Supervisor of the Spring Break trip Dave Newell said, “For a lot of students, this is the third or fourth trip they have gone on, which I think is a testament to the fact that it is a good experience,” he said.
This year, the sites chosen by the Habitat for Humanity chapter at Gustavus include Miami, FL, New Orleans, LA and Laredo, TX. In the past, Gustavus students would go to a variety of build sites in different regions across the country. More recently however, they have focused on the Gulf region of the United States. “It started with New Orleans as an intentional and coordinated relief effort after Hurricane Katrina [in 2005], and has really just gone from there,” Newell said.
The destination for the largest number of Gusties this year is the trip to Miami, Florida. This group of 41 students will be led by Sophomore student and Site Coordinator Keshia Betcher, and her accompanying staff member, Dave Newell. “I chose to take on the role [of site coordinator] because … I feel very strongly about the purpose of Habitat,” Betcher said.
For this group, the itinerary includes four days of working at the build site of a Habitat house, and the remaining three days driving. Miami is approximately 1,800 miles from Saint Peter. “When we are not busy building, we will spend time at Little Havana, the beaches and other touristy sites,” Betcher said.
The second group of students, composed of 27 Gusties and one staff member, are headed to New Orleans. The site coordinator for this trip is Senior Biology Major Katie Peterson. “This will be my third time going back to New Orleans,” Peterson said.
One of her favorite parts of the trip is getting a chance to meet with the new homeowners. “They are so thankful. They tell you all about their struggles and how much of a difference is being made [through Habitat],” she said.
The third and final group, also consisting of 27 students and one staff member, are going to offer their services to the cause in Laredo, Texas.
Junior Accounting and History Major Xi He is serving as the site coordinator for this trip. “I just want to do whatever I can to provide a good trip for the others so they can repeat that favor for people who haven’t participated many times before,” Xi He said.
This build location holds a unique importance for the college this year, as it has close ties with the Reading In Common book, Enrique’s Journey. The book, written by Sonia Nazario, tells the story of a Honduran immigrant who crosses into the United States at Laredo, Texas. “Tying the work trip to the Reading In Common book is something we haven’t done before, so it’s kind of a pilot program,” Newell said.
The process to be a part of the work trips starts with a great deal of planning during fall semester, and requires participants to raise money to pay for their travel and lodging expenses. “[The CSC] charges $300 per student, and then puts the students into groups of six to seven with a designated team leader,” Newell said.
“Many people pay this fee out of pocket, but then each group of six to seven has to raise [an additional] 215 dollars,” Xi He added. This money is typically raised by selling items on campus or working at local events and businesses. For most however, the fundraising is a small price to pay for those who find a great deal of value in the service-learning opportunity.
“I find a lot of my motivation to participate in Habitat from the quote, ‘The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself is in the service of others,’” Peterson said. The work trips are also a great opportunity to build life skills. “I think Habitat is valuable both academically and practically because you can use the skills you gain in all aspects of your life, both now and in the future,” Betcher said.
If you would like to participate in Habitat’s cause but cannot travel on the work trips, there are plenty of opportunities right here in the St. Peter community as well. Terena Wilkens, Technical Director for the Department of Theatre & Dance, offers her time at the local Habitat for Humanity ReStore. “I found the hours for the house building did not fit my schedule, so I checked in at … the ReStore in Mankato. Volunteers at do all sorts of things … including receiving donated items [and] helping customers [with] repairing and/or re-purposing things.”
Student members of Gustavus’s Habitat chapter continue to do work on campus year-round as well. “During the year we try to organize students to help out at builds in St. Peter or Mankato where they have a construction or deconstruction going on,” Xi He said. Whatever your time allows, the site coordinators this year encourage you to give it to help Habitat’s cause.
“Habitat for Humanity is a great organization which has the ability to break the poverty cycle with help from volunteers who have a big heart and an urge to work with power tools,” Betcher said.