Creating a Better Habitat for Humanity

In the “Classic City of the South” also known as Athens, Georgia there is a hidden problem. Behind the good music, fantastic food, and football there are many low-income areas with a lack of affordable housing. Habitat for Humanity works to solve this problem by building houses off of donations and the work of volunteers. They then rent these houses to destitute people in the community for lower prices.

An arial view of downtown Athens, Georgia

My suite mate that I met the week before, Katie Wheat, and I pulled up to the worksite a little reluctant, tired, and curious about what we would experience. The day prior, our professor told us that we would be volunteering with Habitat for Humanity for the next three weeks. This proclamation was met with equal parts excitement and apprehension. In preparation, I ate a good lunch, drank lots of water, wore my lightest top, and put on my oldest pair tennis shoes. I was under the impression that I would be assisting in building a house from the ground up.

As we drove down the cracked pavement up to the houses, I was surprised to see the houses were already built. Four one story houses stood side by side painted bright combinations of green, yellow, purple, orange, and pink. These houses grabbed attention in comparison to the dull, run-down houses that filled the neighborhood. We get out of the car and immediately start sweating as the Georgia sun beats down in the heat of the day. We were the first students there, we clumsily walk up the hill to the houses and are met with a chorus of welcoming from the Habitat for Humanity staff. The first volunteer we met was Greg, a southern California man and one of the most energetic people I have ever met. He greeted us and led us past four houses to start staining fences. Thankfully, we got there early because some of the late people had to dig a ditch.

Caleb, a full-time volunteer who would be assisting us in staining the fences, showed us the ropes to stain the fence evenly. We grabbed some water and got to work. The time flew by as we talked about ourselves, our hometowns, and our struggles at the Freshman College Summer Experience so far. By the end of the day, I was covered in sweat and wood stainer. I appreciated the cool air conditioning of Katie’s car more than I ever have.

The next week, Caleb greeted all of the girls that had stained fences and remembered all of us by names. This week, I was given the task of buffing floors. We would scrape concrete off the the smooth tile floor then pour a little water and buff the room. Two bottles of water and many jokes about me “getting buff” later, I finished the first house. What felt like 30 minutes turned out to be the two hours we signed up for. I escaped out of the heat and felt ready to come back next week.

By the third week, the progress that was made in the houses was extraordinary. All that was left for me to do was sweep out the houses. I swept everywhere that there was not construction tools. After I was done, I reluctantly took a power saw from Caleb and began cutting bushes. Having never done yard work before, the bush looked more like a big blob rather than an actual bush after I was done with it. One of my classmates kindly took the burden of the power saw from me and shaped the bush so it resembled what one should look like.

Though I am highly unskilled in making a house livable, it was surprising to see how much I contributed to the project.In combination with the work the rest of my class put in, the difference in the houses from the first day we started working and the last day was insurmountable. Working in the houses also changed us for the better. It gave us small skills we might not have learned otherwise, such as the fact I know now how to use a buffer. Seeing proof of how even doing just a little bit of work can make a huge difference improved the way I thought of teamwork. Being very weak in uncoordinated, completing the tasks I was given was challenging. Thinking about what this house would mean to its new owners was motivation for me as well as the rest of the students. I was taught than I am more capable than I think that I am.

“It is not how much we give, but how much love we put into giving” -Mother Teresa

Habitat for Humanity not only teaches lessons about construction, but also about yourself. You see how blessed you are to only have to work for a short amount of time and be able to come home to a full fridge, hot water, and air conditioning.

I think what most of us did not understand is that we could be in the same situations as these families in need quicker than we think. Once your parents stop funding you and you are truly on your own, you realize that a few mistakes could put you in their shoes. You also realize the courage of these families to give up their pride and accept help. Being college students, we do not know the complexities that comes with being an adult. This experience with Habitat for Humanity taught me that we should not look down on these families and realize that they are human. It gave me an understanding of these families and the situation they found themselves in.

“They’re not next door but they’re still your neighbors”- Millard Fuller

The people that we met, who spend the whole working week constructing houses radiated happiness. It is inspiring to see how dedicated full-time volunteers are to the cause of Habitat for Humanity. These volunteers spend about 50 hours a week on Habitat projects. The student volunteers only spend about two hours there a week but that did not stop them from constantly giving us waters, sweat towels, and additional instruction on out tasks. This showed that they are constantly thinking about others. They are examples of the kind of selflessness Jesus calls us to possess. I believe this is because their livelihood is spent helping others that might not have had the same opportunity many people are blessed with.