Habitat for Humanity campus affiliates are student-run school clubs that help raise awareness and volunteer regularly with their local affiliates and around the country. The students at the University of Kentucky have a longtime partnership with the local Lexington affiliate, and for the last several years, they have been taking their annual spring break trips to the Gulf Coast. Like many student groups, their first trip was in part because of Hurricane Katrina, but they have returned year after year.
Allison French is a psychology major in her senior year at the university who has returned for her third year with Habitat in New Orleans. She discovered Habitat through her mentor at college and liked the chance to spend spring break doing something different. Allison has learned everything from flooring to framing sidewalks in her three years of volunteering, but before she began volunteering, she had relatively little experience with construction.
“As students, we don’t necessarily have homes that we work on on the regular or that many responsibilities in terms of having to take care of a house, so it’s interesting going through this learning process where everybody is learning together,” she said. “Most of us are coming with minimal amounts of experience, so there’s always the opportunity to learn. Since everybody came on this trip and obviously was willing to give up their spring break to come help for a week, there’s a certain amount of passion and eagerness that I see with this group that is cool to see. It’s special to come on this trip.”
Her experiences have let her see the value of working with homeowners. On previous trips, she worked closely with them, but on some days, the homeowner’s can’t make it to the site. Because Habitat homeowners are often working full-time jobs as well as their sweat equity, they are rarely on site every day. When they are, it makes a big difference in the volunteer experience.
“I think when the homeowner is present, you get to put a face to the project and get to see who you’re impacting,” she said. “You get to know their story and their journey.”
On this trip, she and some of the other volunteers visited the some of the homes they worked on in previous years.
“It’s really rewarding to know that’s something you did and helped contribute to,” she said. “Last year, we got to meet the homeowner that was living in the house. We got to work with her for a little bit. We got to hear her story and what that house meant to her, so it was cool to go back and see her house all done and to know that she has that home for her family.”
In Lexington, the campus affiliate occasionally volunteers with the local affiliate. In an unlikely coincidence, one of the trip’s organizers connected to the student group through the Lexington affiliate, but in Biloxi. Steve Seithers has been a leader with his church’s annual build with the Lexington affiliate for 25 years. He met the student volunteers during one of their trips to Biloxi, where he was also on a volunteer trip. He teamed up with the campus affiliate to help them with organizing and building.
“The biggest thing they take from it is how much can get done in just one day or one week working together,” he said. “It’s great when they develop the leadership skills to organize other groups and consider spending their volunteer time throughout their life helping groups like Habitat for Humanity.”
His experiences have taken him around the world, with trips in the United States to New Orleans, New Jersey, and more, and international builds in Mexico and Russia.
“The cultures are different everywhere,” he said. “You get to see so many differences in the architecture. But they’re all the same in that people are the same everywhere. It doesn’t matter where you go around this world, people are exactly the same. They wanna have friends, they enjoy their family. The people are all the same.”
If you are interested in getting involved with your own campus affiliate or want to start your own, email our Volunteer Services Director, Avery!