The Gustavian Weekly

Creating Habitat for Humanity

By Ben Michalicek - Opinion Columnist | April 7, 2017 | Opinion

Gustavus students embarked on the annual Habitat for Humanity Spring Break trip to build houses. This group worked in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Gustavus students embarked on the annual Habitat for Humanity Spring Break trip to build houses. This group worked in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

When the words “Habitat for Humanity” are mentioned many thoughts spring to mind like “free houses”, “decreasing homelessness”, or maybe even “fun spring break trips”.

The reality is that many myths surround both the organization and the Spring Break trips, and the true value of the organization exists not in providing free houses (which it doesn’t) or in a fun experience for a week.

Habitat serves people both future homeowners and collegiate students by helping them serve themselves, living by the tagline “A hand up, not a hand out”.

Every potential homeowner for Habitat goes through a screening process because all of them are required to be able to pay off and sustain their new houses. The point of this is not to decrease homelessness, it’s to better the quality of life.

In the fall of 2015 Gustavus students went to Alexandria and built a home for a family that included a girl named Kira who had Spina Bifida. Kira’s condition limited her ability to walk without a walker and previous to their new home they lived in the second story of an apartment building which had no elevator. In her new home Kira had wide doors built, ramps that made the outside accessible, and children around her she could play with.

Homelessness is an issue, but Habitat’s specialty is tackling affordable housing dilemmas. The current housing market is suffering. Home loan interest rates can be drowning and can prevent families from reaching the highest potential of their homes.

Construction companies and banks have too much red tape to offer uplifting opportunities for families. So Habitat functions as both bank and construction company. Habitat builds the home specifically for the family and funds the house, but an interest free mortgage comes with the home that the homeowners will have to pay off.

Habitat empowers homeowners by cutting through the red tape to give families the ability to have their own home.

The bread and butter of Habitat though is teaching people to help themselves. Not only do homeowners pay for their houses, they also go through hours and hours of “sweat equity”.

Typically, this entails about 500 hours of volunteering their time on both build sites and in financial classes. Many sites won’t even break ground until the family volunteers a certain number of hours. This gives the homeowners a strong connection to their home and more personal responsibility for its upkeep, as well as preparing them to make sustainably fiscal decisions.

On that same note, Habitat’s purpose is not to prepare a fun trip for volunteering students. Of course, each trip is fun. Students come back with friends, inside jokes, and memories of their trip.

More importantly though, students come back having experienced a week’s worth of service. This experience is like touching a toe to water before diving in, each student comes back with the tools to serve their community further.

These tools are not limited to Habitat for Humanity. Students on the trips come back humbled by experiencing a taste of a social difficulty that they helped to solve. Students don’t come back from Habitat having saved the world, but they do come back realizing they can make a difference.

Post a Comment




It is the goal of The Gustavian Weekly to spark a rich and meaningful conversation of varying viewpoints with readers. By submitting a comment you grant The Gustavian Weekly a perpetual license to reproduce your words, full name and website on this website and in its print edition. By submitting a comment, you also agree to not hold The Gustavian Weekly or Gustavus Adolphus College liable for anything relating to your comment, and agree to take full legal responsibility for your comment and to indemnify and hold harmless The Gustavian Weekly and Gustavus Adolphus College from any claims, lawsuits, judgments, legal fees and costs that it may incur on account of your comment or in enforcing this agreement. Comments that pass through our automatic spam filter are posted immediately. Comments that do not include the full first and last name of the visitor, include links or content relating to entities that do not directly relate to the content of the article, include profanity, or include copyrighted material may be removed from the site. The Weekly's Web Editor and Editor-in-Chief also reserve the right to remove comments for other reasons at their discretion. Criticism of The Weekly is welcome in the comment section of the website, and those wishing to express criticism of The Weekly are also encouraged to contact the Editor-in-Chief or submit a letter to the editor. Please be respectful, and thank you for your contribution!