During a week-long winter break trip last year to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, local volunteer Richard Baird built a block “O” for Habitat for Humanity at OSU as a thank you for the hard work, time and dedication the students put into building homes.
As a campus chapter for Habitat for Humanity International, Habitat at OSU serves as a volunteer resource to communicate, educate and fundraise, and has a mission of constructing homes on zero-interest loans for those who suffer from poverty and poor-quality housing.
Members of Habitat at OSU volunteer every Saturday to help families build their future homes in the Columbus area, as well as in other states during their trips over breaks.
“What we do with Habitat is much more than building houses; we are building communities,” said Summer Saleh, the travel coordinator for Habitat at OSU. “We build hope and we build the opportunities for families to help themselves.”
Next January, during OSU’s winter break, the student organization will be looking to continue the success of last year’s trip and will travel to New Smyrna Beach, Florida.
“We are expecting about 15 people, which is one of the more full trips we have had,” said Dylan Werts, president of Habitat at OSU.
Just as they did in their previous trip, the group will be working full, eight-hour workdays for four days with local families to construct homes. In addition, the members on the trip will have three days off to experience the city with one another.
“We like to make traveling more of an aspect of our club. We want to make (the trip) a combination of a social and a service experience,” Werts said. “We will go to the beach, eat at restaurants, shop, go bowling and really explore and enjoy the city.”
Saleh said she is looking forward to creating new friendships on the trip in January, which she thinks will be an excellent opportunity for the group.
“We are really excited about having a new group of people to meet and to get close to on this upcoming trip,” she said. “It will be a great opportunity to become friends with others, whether they are from OSU or they are local families or volunteers from (the) area we will be building in.”
In addition to the upcoming trip, Habitat at OSU has been constructing a local home in Columbus at 97 E. Woodrow Ave. since the beginning of summer, Werts said. Every Saturday for four hours, a group of members volunteer their time, and this home is expected to be completed within the next five or six weeks.
“We have been providing an extra set of hands for volunteer builders and for the home owner,” Werts said. “Through this build, we have seen how appreciative the families are, and we got to make new relationships with people.”
Danny Aiti, the vice president and treasurer of the group, said one of the best parts of Habitat is being able to work with the families while building their future homes.
“We get to work next to the people building the houses, which is something you don’t get to see when you do volunteer work a lot,” he said. “You’re going to be able to see the results you make immediately, not only physically on the house, but emotionally on the future homeowners, which is incredible.”
Saleh said that it is inspiring to see how dedicated the homeowners are to building their homes, and how grateful they are for the help that Habitat provides.
“It really opens your eyes because you get to learn their struggle,” she said. “It is amazing to see how much work they put into their future homes, as they go to work every day, and then come back to work on their house. Also, they are always so thankful whenever we have the chance to help them.”
The homeowners must help the Habitat volunteers build their homes, as they pay for it on zero interest loans.
“They aren’t just given a house. They deserve the house, but they have to pay for it, work for it and earn it,” said volunteer coordinator Bennet Stuffel.
When they aren’t building, or when the winter weather hits, Habitat hosts events and activities, such as comedy shows and fundraisers at local eateries, Werts said. Most recently, members made shoes for children in Uganda, and made superhero capes for children with cancer, which they send to Columbus hospitals.
In the near future, Habitat will be volunteering at local soup kitchens and homeless shelters, and they will be creating care packages to give to the homeless.
“We are going to start a homelessness initiative when it gets cold and we can’t build anymore,” Saleh said. “We will create care packages that will have things like toothpaste, a toothbrush, water bottles, blankets and more.”
The student organization helps construct 20-30 homes in Columbus each year, which are simple two-floor homes with two to three bedrooms, a bathroom and a kitchen, contributing to the 15,000 homes a year that the international organization builds around the world, Werts said.
“They are all $50,000 to make, more or less,” he said.
For next year’s winter break, Habitat at OSU will take their first international trip to Costa Rica to provide a helping hand in house construction and will look to continue to make a positive impact on the lives of the homeowners.
“What we do at Habitat shows people that we aren’t just no. 1 in football, but it also shows that we are no. 1 in philanthropy,” Saleh said. ”We get to be ambassadors for OSU, and that is a great feeling.”