Spring Break - Habitat Style

It was an unlikely choice for a spring break gathering of college students. Springhill, a rural community in northwest Louisiana, only has about 5,500 residents. There are no beaches, no amusement parks, no strips of bars and nightclubs targeting college youth. But this spring, instead of donning swimsuits, almost 100 students put on hard hats and nail aprons to help Webster Habitat for Humanity build a simple, decent home for a family in need.

Students from eight colleges and universities gave up their spring break to travel to Springhill to help build homes in neighboring Sarepta in what is known as "Collegiate Challenge." Work teams came from Hannibal - LaGrange College, Saint Anselm College, Florida State University, Minot State University, Eastern Illinois University, St. Olaf College, the University of Minnesota, and Northwest Michigan College.

Across the country, more than 12,000 students signed up to participate in Collegiate Challenge this year. The program offers high school and college students year-round opportunities to use their vacations to serve a community by volunteering to build homes. Students from the United States, Canada and Japan will travel to more than 200 locations in the United States and Mexico.

Throughout its 16-year history, Collegiate Challenge has sent more than 100,000 students to build Habitat houses. During this time, students have raised $8 million through the program to pay for construction. This year alone, Collegiate Challenge students will contribute more than $1 million to help build 450 houses.

One of the teams scheduled in Webster Parish this year was a returning school. Hannibal - LaGrange College from Hannibal, Missouri worked with Webster HFH during Collegiate Challenge 2004. "We enjoyed our week with Webster Habitat so much that our students wanted to come back down and work with the same people this year," said Professor John Markell, sponsor of the Missouri work team.

Charlie Park, executive director of Webster Habitat for Humanity, says it is not unusual for schools to return to the same affiliate with whom they have worked previously. "Our Habitat affiliate has developed a reputation for great Southern hospitality," Park said. "Besides providing a quality work experience for these terrific college volunteers, we also provide good lodging and lots of great food. They are well fed when they come to Webster Habitat."

Meals are provided by volunteers and donations from area churches, with some of the area's best cooks volunteering their talents to feed hard working college students giving one week of their time to help families build their own homes. Meghan M. from Eastern Illinois University commented, "I learned a lot more than I had expected to and got to do a lot more than I thought I would be able to. It was educational and fun at the same time. I had a blast."

On August 16th, Habitat for Humanity International celebrated the completion of the 200,000th house constructed since the organization started in 1976. More than one million people have now been housed in Habitat homes they helped build. Four of them, including Patrick, 6 and Sam, 5, live in a new home in Sarepta thanks to Webster Habitat, a community with big hearts, and 100 college students who thought it more worthwhile to spend their spring break making a difference.

Content Archived: July 18, 2011