Collegiate Challenge: From hitting the books to hitting nails
For more than 10 years, Habitat Walton County has provided alternative spring break volunteer opportunities to college students. Through Habitat’s unique one-week volunteer program, Collegiate Challenge offers an education all its own. Whether the volunteer group is on the build site or serving in the ReStore, they learn about different living conditions and how safe, affordable housing builds strength, stability and self-reliance for families.
This year, 22 students from Penn State Schuylkill (a campus of The Pennsylvania State University) and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville School of Engineering’s (SOE) Constructor’s Club (all of whom are studying construction management) in the SOE put their building skills to use over spring break, March 4-9, to help people in Walton County through Habitat. Penn State has been participating in the Collegiate Challenge with Habitat Walton County for over 10 years and this is Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s 5th year. Funding for the SIUE spring break trip was provided by a student-organized Trivia Night.
Students worked on build sites for Habitat Homes 45 and 46, both located in DeFuniak Springs. They gained hands-on experience as they learned from Habitat’s “core” volunteers who lead the builds. The core volunteers taught students how to hang vinyl siding, soffits and facias, install bedroom and closet doors, trim and molding, cut and install window sills, hang shutters, and install hardware such as doorknobs and towel bars. Outside the students helped grade the yard to prep it for sod and landscaping, and also helped with work at the ReStore in Santa Rosa Beach.
What the students found most important was that they made a meaningful impact on the lives of others. “We worked on a house for a widow who had lost her home to a lightning strike, the other was for a family who has five young children. The most meaningful part of the trip was meeting these people whose homes we were helping build,” Grant said. “They were incredibly grateful for all the hard work that was accomplished. Being able to work side by side with the owners and hear their stories changed what we were doing. We weren’t just working. We were giving them their home back. It was an experience we will never forget.” [The Telegraph]
After the students left, the following week a group of college students visiting the area that were not affiliated with Habitat Collegiate Challenge came to Habitat asking to volunteer! On a rainy Monday when the ReStore was closed, this group of college students spent the day getting a lot of work accomplished for our store and were a delight. Habitat Collegiate Challenge is one of our favorite volunteer events of the year and welcome any college students to volunteer with us and make the difference in the lives of families here in Walton County.
Habitat relies heavily on hundreds of volunteers, and the hands-on instruction taught to new volunteers by the experienced “core.” Construction knowledge and build skills are passed down to the new generations of volunteers year after year, ensuring Habitat’s mission will be carried out for decades to come.