Habitat Helpers of Athens

UGA students tackle a better tomorrow

The sun was blazing, and sweat rolled off the faces of the students. 
We felt drained and weary. The labor was hard and extensive, but we knew our actions meant more to the volunteers and those receiving the house than we could ever imagine.

As a class, we felt like we were more than just an extra set of hands there to aid the process, by getting the tasks done quicker. Instead, we were cheerfully welcomed by the volunteer team and felt like we were a part of our community. For the majority of the students in Simrill’s UNIV 1103 class, this was the first time since we arrived at UGA that we felt a connection to our new home.

Habitat for Humanity is an outreach program that provides families who are unable to buy a house a home to live in. The volunteers for Habitat serve their communities by: constructing houses, preserving shelters, advocating for just housing policies, and providing training and access to resources to help families improve their housing conditions. Their main goal is to bring decent living conditions to all individuals by building relationships and homes.

I was first introduced to this program my freshman year at UGA. I attended the Freshman College Summer Experience, and it was mandatory that one of my classes had to be service-learning based. We showed up for classes on Mondays and Wednesdays, but Thursdays were when the real work began. For three weeks, every Thursday was dedicated to rehabilitating abandoned shelters, and giving life to new homes.

One of the greatest joys in life: Watching another man working

Some of our experiences included building porches, staining fences, digging trenches, pouring concrete, trimming bushes and landscaping. The boys were generally sectioned off to do the more strenuous tasks, while the girls helped paint and clean out the neglected structures. On behalf of the girls, no one complained or objected this logic.

For instance, I worked alongside my suite mate, Mary Claire Murdock, each time doing different jobs. The first week, we stained and helped build four fences. These fences served to separate the houses from the steep inclines off the street. By staining them, we added as sense of style that helped spruce up the neighborhood.

On our second trip, we were put in charge of deep cleaning the interior of the shelters. This task was excruciating due to the fact that the majority of the homes had serious water damage, which resulted in moldy walls and obnoxious odors. Our jobs were to remove everything that was left inside the houses. After they were all swept out, we scrapped the walls and tiles to remove dirt stains that had been left by workers coming in and out of the complexes. We ended the day by buffing the floors in every room of the house.

The last trip consisted of finalizing the houses. We pulled the weeds outside of the porches and trimmed the bushes down to nubs. We also worked inside the houses by removing the left over equipment and sweeping the floors. These tasks seemed somewhat bittersweet. While we looked back at all of the progress that had been made since our first visit, we were quickly hit with the realization that our time here was over.

I believe that it was the friendships made throughout this experience that made leaving so hard. The volunteers took us in with open arms. They instilled confidence in us and our abilities to get the job done. Even though they were our leaders, they made us feel part of the team. Every visit the relationships between these strangers grew, and we adapted connections that made the work even more meaningful.

Being at the construction site week after week, gave me something to look forward to when I enter my own career. While we were all pitching in to complete the tasks, the construction ended up being something that we only looked back at after we quit interacting or joking around with the people beside us. It made me excited to know that your job doesn’t have to be a place where you dread doing to the work day after day. If you are surrounded by the right kind of people, then even digging trenches can be fun. To look at my life five years from now, I would want nothing more than to be in an environment where I was having as much fun working with my co-workers as I did when I volunteered at Habitat for Humanity.

Philip, one of the German volunteer workers

Habitat for Humanity has taught me life skills that will stick with me forever. I learned that in order to be successful, you don't have to make a high-income salary. Sometimes, it is the happy people in life that succeed more than the well off ones. I also learned that giving back is crucial to improving one’s character. The German exchange students taught me to live life to the fullest and not to hold back from whatever adventure awaits me, wherever that may be. Caleb, one of the volunteers, preached that not everyone’s expectations of you are what you must live up to; go find your niche and live a passionate life. Lastly, I learned that a hard work ethic and dedication can get you through almost anything. Keep your mind on your goals, and don’t stop until you get where you want to be.