Habitat for Humanity builds more than just homes

Who: Johns Hopkins Habitat for Humanity Chapter
Age: 18-25
What: Renovating homes for deserving families

The Johns Hopkins University chapter of Habitat for Humanity has an interesting take on the process–they renovate existing homes for deserving families to move into. Check the article out here or at the Johns Hopkins Newsletter.

Habitat for Humanity builds more than just homes
By: Alex Vockroth
Posted: 10/18/07

Weekends are a time many Hopkins students use to their advantage. Students may catch up on lost sleep, spend their time socializing or make the more enterprising trek to MSE. There is, however, an exception.

Each Saturday, a group of Hopkins students work hard to improve the health of the Baltimore community – and it’s not by working at the med school. The Hopkins chapter of Habitat for Humanity joins forces with other students and volunteers to make the city more vibrant by rehabilitating rowhouses in West Baltimore’s Sandtown neighborhood.

Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit housing group which aims to cure homelessness by building inexpensive, low-income homes for deserving families suffering from poverty. The Hopkins Habitat chapter has been around for about 10 years, and in that time, the group has restored nine homes for low-income Baltimore families.

“We try to build a house every year,” said senior Ariana Barkley, president of the Hopkins chapter of Habitat for Humanity.

Habitat’s goal of providing safe, simple housing for the poor is accomplished through the work of volunteers, and it may appear that their generosity could be taken advantage of. However the process for determining who will buy the houses is rather rigorous. The families must first submit an application that is reviewed by a selection committee.

The chosen families are those living in tough situations who are willing to work for a better life. Each family must work alongside other volunteers, including contractors and other professionals, to make their dream of a new home become a reality. The members of the Hopkins chapter help these dreams come true in what Barkley calls a “three-pronged goal.”

The first of these three goals is, obviously, to actually provide the labor necessary for building the houses. Many Habitat groups build houses from the ground up, but in Baltimore, the organization chooses instead to renovate some of the many already standing abandoned rowhouses that populate the city. They spend every Saturday in the Sandtown neighborhood gutting and then restoring the house.

In order to make their work possible, the team requires a great many resources, the most crucial of which is funding. Each year, the chapter must raise at least $30,000 in sponsorship for materials, tools and other needs. To reach this goal, Habitat members do a lot of fundraising. Their efforts come in the form of everything from Krispy Kreme sales to bingo nights. They like to organize less common fundraising methods as well.

“We do a lot of social events … to get the Hopkins community involved in a fun way,” Barkley said.

Seeing the devastating conditions in which much of the country lives inspires Habitat to attain its third goal of raising awareness about issues surrounding poverty. Often, the chapter invites speakers to general body meetings to inform students on community problems. The group wants people outside its own membership to be more mindful of these matters as well, according to Barkley.

“This type of organization is not only going into the community getting hands on experience … but it’s also exposing the community to issues these people are facing,” she said.

Providing families with a fundamental need is clearly a rewarding experience, but participating in Habitat leads to many other positive opportunities. Perhaps the most prominent of these is the connection that members form to the community.

“When you actually go on the trip a lot of neighbors in the area know Habitat,” Barkley explained. “They’re usually very, very warm, and you’re not only meeting the homeowner you’re working with [but] … you also get an opportunity to talk with other neighbors in the area.”

Meredith Mirrer, Hopkins Habitat’s Marketing and Publicity Co-Chair, agrees with Barkley’s statement. By getting involved, she said, “We build lasting relationships with members of the community, and strong friendships with one another.”

Members also believe that Habitat provides excellent practical experience for college students who may otherwise be consumed by academic pursuits. Mirrer’s co-chair, Natalie Draisin, reminds us that a world outside our campus exists.

“Sometimes, while living in the ‘Hopkins bubble,’ we forget how privileged we are to simply have roofs over our heads, or to have the opportunity to attain a prestigious education,” Draisin said. “Nearby, there are many who do not even have a place to call home. As residents of the Hopkins community, it’s our responsibility to … build foundations for them in order to strengthen our communities and bring them together.”

Indeed, the efforts of Hopkins Habitat improve the whole community, not just the families lucky enough to acquire a new home. Bringing a hard-working, determined family into the neighborhood invariably enhances it, and improving the lifestyle of one family can have “a domino effect” on the community, according to Barkley. Habitat’s projects affect how the community perceives itself, and having outsiders take an interest in their home gives residents a greater sense of pride.

Students interested in helping Hopkins Habitat aid the people of Baltimore can easily do so – even if they’ve never held a hammer. Many members first became involved by participating in the week-long Habitat Pre-Orientation program, but certainly all are welcome. Barkley, who claims to have had little experience with manual labor before the Pre-O events preceding her freshman year, encourages anyone who is eager to help to come and learn. She assures prospective volunteers that everyone affiliated with the organization is welcoming and willing to teach newcomers.

As much as Hopkins Habitat has contributed to the city of Baltimore, their impact can be felt far beyond state lines. Every year, they team up with chapters from around the country to participate in other Habitat missions. Recent years have seen spring break trips to Ft. Lauderdale and Miami, where the group had the chance to actually help build houses from the ground up. This year, members will be heading to New Orleans to help Katrina victims rebuild what they’ve lost.

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~ by PJ on October 21, 2007.

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