An Exercise of the Heart

Do More Project III: A story about a charity, a classroom, and a cheap DSLR.

Dr. Spenser Simrill’s UNIV 1130S class on the Habitat build site 20 July 2017

“Wait, seriously?” I said. “I thought you were kidding.”

That was me three weeks ago after Dr. Simrill suggested I make a short documentary about our coming service project. I showed up for class the day after the initial suggestion with none of my camera gear, though the professor had mentioned bringing it in so we could discuss what we had to work with.

My documentary of our work with Athens Habitat on Magnolia Terrace in Athens, GA

On 3 July 2017, about 300 Freshmen began UGA’s Freshman College Summer Experience. As a part of this program, we would be able to earn multiple class credits and gain a head start learning the geography and social environment of campus. In addition, we would participate in a program the administrators call service learning.

Kelly (right), Carah (left), and Callye Ann (front) building a deck around one duplex.

Service learning is a major motif of the Freshman College program. We even had to answer an essay question on the application about what we thought service learning was and how we would benefit from it. Honestly, as I filled out the online forms, I didn’t know what to expect. Service learning? What would that be?

I suppose I answered well enough, being that I soon received notice that I was accepted into the program. I remember, more or less accurately, one of the very first things Professor Simrill said when he entered the classroom that Monday.

“We got lucky with our service assignment. We’re working for Habitat for Humanity.”

Lucky? What made that project any better than, say, working at the food bank as some of our fellow students would be? We’d soon come to find out.

The next day, we ate lunch while listening to a short presentation from State Representative Spencer Frye, who works as the Executive Director of Athens Habitat. He explained to us the origins of the entire organization itself, but what was most fascinating was his explanation of his branch of the charity, the Athens division.

The Athens Habitat duplexes on Magnolia Terrace

Athens Habitat does something that most other Habitat organizations do not. It actually renovates existing properties and handles the rental process themselves. That way, they can control the rent price and adjust it to patrons’ incomes.

Habitat for Humanity operates a thrift store they call the ReStore, which sells donated building supplies and home furnishings. Proceeds go directly to support the construction of new homes to be rented reasonably to those who need homes but cannot afford one under normal circumstances.

Athens Habitat has a unique approach. Instead of starting from scratch, they buy dilapidated properties and refurbish them with their budget. They then rent the revitalized homes on an income-adjusted scale. By improving a handful of homes in less privileged neighborhoods, Athens Habitat can turn an entire community around.

“People used to drive through this neighborhood and [sell drugs]. They don’t come around here any more.“
— Doug Carver

My classmates and I had the privilege to work with the crass and sharp-witted Director of Construction, Doug Carver, the two German workers on the site who came to stay in America for an entire year to work with Athens Habitat, Phil and Miro, and the numerous other workers that generously gave their time to help Athens as a whole.

My documentary highlights some of the most amazing parts of working on the project as a group. It is an experience that the entire class would agree was a formative part of Freshman College, and it has improved us all as human beings. We are all extremely proud of the work we accomplished.

The hard work of digging ditches, laying concrete, and clearing brush slowly came together as a slight, yet meaningful, bit of progress as we worked.

I aspire to live out my own life of passion at the end of my schooling. I may fall victim to my weaknesses from time to time and take the escalator rather than the stairs, but I am sure of one thing. By living to uphold my personal mantra, DO MORE, I will without a doubt find and expand upon my passion. I will certainly feel as fulfilled as the Habitat workers we were privileged to meet.

Athens Habitat is filled with glorious examples of lives lived passionately. Each of them are exemplary role models that choose to always take the hard route and do what they love, helping others, at any and all costs. They don’t take on less just because their lives are tough.

They Do More.