From Apprehension to Appreciation

How working with Habitat for Humanity changed my perspective on things.

Maddie, Alexis, and I taking a break from painting a handrail.

As I arrived at Magnolia Terrace on Thursday morning, I was worried. I had done volunteer work before of course but nothing like this. As my eyes scanned the small colorful houses filled with tools and volunteers, I wasn’t sure of what I was getting myself into. Shortly after we arrived, Doug, the Habitat ringleader at this site instructed me and a few other to stain the deck. And to be honest, I was pretty thankful I wasn’t mowing the lawn. We worked with Caleb who had been working with Habitat for a few months at this point and was considered a full time employee.

As we stained the deck in front of one of the houses at the Habitat building site, Caleb told us his story. Earlier in his life, he was involved in some trouble. He didn’t specify what he did, but he told us he he wasn’t happy with who he was and what he did. As we continued to work he told us he worked through the Goodwill to take classes and start a business. Habitat for Humanity is somewhat of an internship for him as he gets his business started. Not only was Caleb friendly and inviting, he was a huge inspiration. He truly turned his life around from one of hardship and trouble to one that helped others. That morning, I was apprehensive to participate in this volunteer work but as we listened to Caleb’s story it made me realize a few things.

Maddie staining the deck.

First, Habitat is a great way for people who are looking for purpose. The current executive director of Habitat for Humanity in Athens, Spencer Frye, gave us an idea of this when he came to speak to us. He told us that he gave up a job that he was making a lot of money for Habitat but, it gave him a purpose. He felt that he was being beneficial and helpful to the community and not just making money. I believe that anybody who volunteers or works there for an extended period of time, like Caleb, feels this. While you’re working on these houses, you realize that you are making a difference. Although sweating at 9 AM on a Thursday isn’t ideal, I’d always leave with a positive just knowing that in the 2 hours we were there I was able to contribute in making a comfortable and safe environment for a hard working family.

Second, I feel that service learning has added so much to my freshman college experience and it’s helped me integrate myself into the Athens community. It was definitely hard moving here from my hometown where I felt really involved in the community and had a sense of belonging. Working with Habitat has helped me develop that feeling for Athens. It’s not home yet but it will be eventually. This has also been quite the learning experience. We were able to see the housing problem in Athens and understand poverty that affects the community. I really wasn’t aware of this issue so this open my mind to realize how this problem affects many community members.

Group picture with Caleb after staining the deck.

Lastly, I’ve felt that this has been a great bonding experience for my classmates and I. I didn’t know anybody on the first day of class and now I feel like I’ve definitely made a few friendships. While working, I was able to hear a lot of my classmates stories and learn who they are. This helped me feel more comfortable in class but also in freshmen college in general.

Habitat for Humanity also calmed my racing thoughts about my future. Ever since I’ve gotten to college I’ve been really unsure on whether I’d want to pursue a law career after school. It’s something I’d always see myself doing but I just wasn’t sure. But, as I worked at habitat I knew Law school would be the right place for me. You’re probably wondering how these two are related. But, they are. I would eventually want to go into something like leading a nonprofit organization. I’ve always loved working with others and specifically helping the less fortunate. Knowing that I was making a difference here at Habitat is how I want to feel everyday in the future. I don’t want to leave my job knowing got paid well, I want to leaving knowing I was able to help people who need it.

Everyday we came back, I enjoyed it more and more. I felt more comfortable every time and was ready to do any work assigned me. What once was an unfamiliar and somewhat intimidating setting turned into a comfortable and exciting environment. By the third time we went to Habitat, I was really upset that this would be our last time going. But, this experience has inspired me to continue work with Habitat for Humanity after Freshco is over. Thankfully, the apprehension on the first day didn’t steer me away from what would turn out to be something really wonderful.