Volunteer Profile: WVU School of Medicine

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Like many spring break volunteer groups, the West Virginia University School of Medicine students have made community service a tradition. Their school requires students to serve 100 hours in the community as part of their emphasis on service to the state, and for the last several years, first-year medical students have been taking a trip to New Orleans to give their time building homes with NOAHH as a way to enjoy their break and fulfill their service requirements–and to gain some valuable perspective after a long year of studying.

“We’re surrounded by medicine all the time,” said Ali Mintus, who organized the trip. “It’s easy to lose sight that there’s more to a person than just their medicine, sot his is an opportunity to experience people in all walks of life and to remember the human side of medicine.”

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Ali volunteered many times with Habitat affiliates during her years as an undergrad, and her experiences helped build excitement for the coming trip. In previous builds, she worked alongside future homeowners, which made an impact on her.

“When you talk with the homeowners, and they tell you all they’ve been through and the difficulties, the triumphs and tribulations of their lives, to see where they are now and to see the hope they have when they’re building their own home and getting ready to be homeowners, it’s something that’s exciting.”

About 60 students–or two-thirds of the class–volunteered for the trip. Over the course of their four days on site, they will collectively complete 2,016 hours of service, and each student will complete a third of their individual requirements. During that time, the medical students will leave a significant impact on the homes on America Street.

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“For most students, that’s not a big deal at all, but this is a great way to do it with friends and do it while you’re having fun with other people,” said Ali. “Seeing how far we can get on the house. This is the biggest group of students I’ve worked with on a build. Even just over the course of a half a day, we’ve made a lot of progress. I can’t wait to see from the beginning to the end the final product of where we end up at the end of the week.”

For most of the students, Ali included, this trip marks their first time in New Orleans. While their days are spent giving back, they are still taking time to see the city as well.

“I love jazz music, and I love music, so to be able to walk around the streets and hear music everywhere, it’s exciting for me,” she said. “I’m looking forward to getting to experience all the culture that I can. Most of us haven’t been here before so we’re all exploring it together and trying to take in the most of it we can.”

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Also during their trip, the students joined NOAHH at our ReStore, where they helped organize materials for the sales floor. Though this was not quite the same as building a house, their service still held great value to the affiliate, as the ReStore is a crucial part of the Habitat program.

“To me, service is putting yourself out there to help someone else even in small ways,” Ali said. “I think that small ways are the best ways. Mother Theresa said to do small things with great love, and that’s something I try to do every day.”