Release Date: 11/10/2009
Clarksville, Ark. --- As Margaret Mead put it, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." For student volunteers from the U of O, a Saturday trip to 505 N. 23rd in Ft. Smith to help build a house through Habitat for Humanity proved just such an opportunity.
Habitat for Humanity is an international, ecumenical Christian, non-governmental, non-profit organization founded in 1976 and devoted to building "simple, decent, and affordable" housing. Homes are built using volunteer labor and are sold at no profit.
Students participate in the volunteer program for multiple reasons. Some are required to complete hours of community service for their scholarships, like junior Taylor Crutchfield. "I need the service hours for my Native American scholarship," said the petite soccer player from Claymore, Okla. "Plus it's a nice way to spend a pretty Saturday outside."
Other students volunteer to meet their convocation requirements. Some just do it for fun, like juniors Alex Chandler of Little Rock and Lindsey Kellaway of The Colony, Tex. “We’ve already met our convo and volunteer requirements,” said Chandler. "We’re just out here trying to help."
"It beats wasting the day sleeping!" Kellaway added with a laugh.
"U of O has been involved with Habitat for about a dozen years," said Jones Learning Center Director Julia Frost, who was in charge of the trip. "I read about it a long time ago. It interested me, and the fact that participants work toward their houses. It isn't just a handout. I am a sponsor of the Methodist Campus Ministry and was looking for community service projects. It's important to teach students to give back."
Frost says originally the university participated in the program only once a semester, but as interest grew they increased their participation to two houses in the fall and two in spring. "Once more faculty and staff became interested in helping, it became possible to increase our participation," Frost said. "Sometimes we have more students volunteer than we have room for. Once students participate, they often want to come back."
Future homeowner and mother of two Maria Ochoa watched the busy students with a broad smile on her face. "It should be done by January or February," she said. "We had been praying for Christmas, but this will be wonderful too. We may put the Christmas tree on the porch anyway!"
Helping to put up the siding was another Habitat future homeowner, Kim Cruz, and her husband Martin "Our house is finished," she said. "We are working on our house's hours so we can move in. We have five kids living in a two-bedroom apartment, so we're ready!" Habitat homeowners must volunteer several hundred hours on Habitat projects to complete their commitment.
On-site foreman Ed Peters has worked full time for Habitat for six years. "I had originally applied for another job, but when they saw I had carpentry experience they said they'd prefer me to work on the houses," Peters said. "We built about five houses a year. This is my 30th house."
Peters said Habitat works with numerous student groups throughout the year. "March is going to be a busy month because most colleges are on spring break," he said. "March is full. We have two colleges a week sending volunteers here that month. We plan on building two or three houses in March, getting them framed and in the dry. In December I'll be pouring the foundations for the March houses."
Following a morning of spreading mortar on the concrete block foundation of the house, volunteers were fed pizza supplied by other volunteers, and the afternoon was spent with the students, under Peters' guidance, putting up siding on the house. They made it about halfway up.
"Not a bad day's work," Peters said in late afternoon, as the students began to pick up their tools and carry them inside. Some of them will return in the spring, when the U of O sends volunteers to work on two more projects.
"I'm glad I got involved in this," said Alex Chandler. "It makes me feel like I’m helping somebody else, contributing to my community."
The students around him seem to agree on that one.