The ripple effect

A strong foundation starts with FCSE and Habitat for Humanity

Me and my new friends

Thinking about the prospect of college is one thing. Experiencing it, however, is a whole other story. When I first stepped foot on campus, I was overwhelmed by a whirlwind of emotions. Orientation made me both excited and anxious for what was to come, and looking around at the faces of those around me I knew that I wasn’t alone. After a few days, however, my nervousness slowly turned to contentment because I had begun to adjust to my new surroundings. By the end of the first week, I had met so many new people and since then, I have come to realize just how privileged I am to be at a university as great as UGA.

It wasn’t long before Athens started feeling like home. I love the sense of community I feel in walking around campus, and I got that same unmistakable feeling when I began my service work with Habitat for Humanity. All of the preexisting workers and volunteers accepted us with open arms and warm smiles, happy to see us getting involved. They didn’t care that we had just arrived in Athens. They treated us like they would someone who had been a part of the community their whole life. And that is something special that can’t be said about a lot of places. It’s a beautiful thing when people work together to achieve a common goal, and I am grateful to have been a part of that during my Freshman College experience.

When I first researched about Habitat for Humanity to get a feel for what I was going to be getting myself into, I was taken aback by the sheer size of the project. From the time it was founded, Habitat for Humanity has helped to repair more than a million houses, sheltering more than five million people. What lay before me at the build site, while only a small portion of that, was nonetheless making a big impact on the community. Six brightly colored single-family homes lined the street, desperately in need of reconstruction. I was eager to get my hands dirty in support of a worthy cause.

The single-family homes in need of refurbishment

Sweat dripped down my face as I gripped the power-washer with both hands. As I press down on the handle, water shoots out onto the concrete with such force that the paint stains wash away with relative ease. However, the task itself was anything but easy. Another time, I stood on a ladder and ripped off old roofing shingle by shingle. That was no easy feat either, especially considering how I nearly fell off the ladder trying to tear a nail out of the roof. Despite the laborious nature of these tasks, I followed through with my commitment because it was what needed to be done. Through the classes I have taken at Freshman College, I have learned that you cannot avoid hard work if you want to do well. Sitting through Microeconomics listening to lecture can be challenging. Therefore, I’ve had to study diligently day after day to be able to succeed in the class. In the words of the great Vince Lombardi:

“The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand”

While individual hard work can undoubtedly pave the way to success, working as a team can yield even better results. The Habitat project is based almost entirely on the premise of teamwork, and it allows for tasks to be completed in a more efficient manner. With the help of others, I was able to lift large planks of wood and carry them to the dumpster. In my time at UGA so far, I have come to recognize that asking for help is not a bad thing. Working together can be extremely beneficial, and does in no way mean you are incapable of doing it yourself. Being able to effectively interact with others is a skill that I hope to sharpen during my next four years here.

Habitat’s success has largely been made possible through the positive attitude and determination of the staff, volunteers, and homeowners. The crew was always encouraging and thanking us, which I believe made us work with more enthusiasm. Gary Mierzwak, one of the construction project managers I met at the site, was obviously passionate about the work they were doing to salvage the houses. He told us about his previous life in California, and how he believes he found his calling at Athens Habitat. Here at FCSE, I have learned that college is all about finding what you are truly passionate about. When the fall semester starts, I hope I will be able to figure out what that is and pursue it, just like Gary has done.

Micayla and I talking with construction manager Doug

Athens Habitat has an open-door policy, meaning all who believe that everyone should have decent, affordable housing are welcome to help work. UGA has a similar belief that all students should be treated as equally, no matter their background. In fact, the staff has encouraged us Freshman College students to interact with those who are different from ourselves so that we may have the chance to maybe learn something new and broaden our minds to include various cultures and lifestyles. I took their advice to heart, and made it a point to introduce myself to many different people, and in the process, have made great friends.

I have received several gifts over the course of FCSE in the form of good grades, new friends, and calls from home. Gifts can come in all forms, and for the underprivileged people living in the Athens area, that gift was Habitat. God’s love is evident through both the crew’s and the volunteer’s dedication to helping others by refurbishing otherwise uninhabitable houses. Not only do they build homes, they build communities. And communities build relationships. Whether they be familiar, friendly, or professional, all relationships are important to personal development. I know I have become a more perceptive individual because the friends I have made at Freshman College.

In the long term, Habitat for Humanity strives to eradicate housing projects and replace them with single-family homes that the future owners help to rebuild. For me, working with Habitat has made me truly want to better myself as a person and become more involved with the Athens community. I don’t want to volunteer just to say that I did it, I want it to mean something. Through this work, I found that I could empathize with those unable to afford decent housing. And when you put yourself in someone else’s shoes, it allows you to understand what they are going through and therefore puts you in a better position to help them.