QU Habitat builds houses, hope

Kelley Davies

A smoky cloud of sawdust filled the worksite as 18 Quinnipiac University students were framing a house on their spring break trip to Chatham County, N.C., March 7 through 14.

Quinnipiac’s Habitat for Humanity, a community-service student organization, builds and rehabilitates houses to fight homelessness. The group has raised awareness about homelessness through alternative spring break trips.

Eighteen students out of 50 were chosen to make the trip along with two leaders, said Nicholas Solitro, a sophomore legal studies major.

More than 150 students, from Boston College, Villanova University, Rivier College, Georgetown Law School, Delaware Valley College and the University of Illinois also participated in Chatham Habitat for Humanity Collegiate Challenge and helped frame four houses during the month of March.

“I did this exact same trip last year and had an absolute blast, so I wanted to go back again this year because it was such a positive experience,” said Caitlin Guarino, a sophomore biomedical science major.

“I heard about it from a good friend who went last year and he made it sound incredible, so I gave it a shot for this year,” said Megan Scully, a junior media production major who also went on the trip.

The students drove by van from campus to Chatham County.

“The 14-hour car ride was something that no one was looking forward to, but it definitely brought us all closer,” said Julia Nuara, a sophomore marketing major.

They stayed in cabins at Camp Royall, a summer camp for children with autism. The camp had a gym, soccer field, kitchen, and grill site, according to Guarino.

The students woke up at 7 a.m. every day for breakfast. They then walked to the worksite to begin framing the interior and exterior walls of the house at 8 a.m.

Chatham’s Habitat for Humanity brought the lumber for the frame. The instructors, two AmeriCorp volunteers and a Chatham Habitat for Humanity veteran, taught the students to properly cut wood, hammer and paint. The sound of hammering and the smell of wet paint filled the air.

“I hadn’t touched a hammer since woodshop in seventh grade,” Scully said.

Lunch was at noon. The students continued sawing and nailing after lunch until 3 p.m. Sawdust and paint covered the floor of the site. They cleaned up and left the site at 4 p.m.

The students were divided into groups of four. A different group cooked dinner each night. The other groups showered, worked out, played soccer, or just relaxed while the one group made dinner.

After dinner, the students participated in group-building exercises. An aroma of roasted marshmallows lingered throughout the air as the students made s’mores over the campfire. Each night ended with a reflection of how the worksite went that day.

The framing of the house was completed in three days. The students began framing of a second house since they finished early.

“This organization is so much more than picking up a paintbrush or hammer,” Nuara said. “Every single nail and every board of drywall that is placed does not seem significant in the short run, but in the long run, those nails are holding up a home for an actual family to live in.”

One of the AmeriCorp volunteers brought the students on a tour of a neighborhood of previous houses that Habitat for Humanity built. They were able to observe the families living in the houses and see the impact Chatham County’s Habitat for Humanity made in the past 10 years.

“The amount that we accomplished was truly astonishing and really showed the good that Quinnipiac can do,” Solitro said.

The family that will live in the house has not yet been determined. Habitat for Humanity chooses the family by an application process. The family must acquire “sweat equity,” according to Guarino. The family has to put 40 hours of physical labor on their own house or another family’s house. Families are willing to lend a helping hand toward other families.

“Habitat for Humanity does a great job of not only building houses for homeless families but also creating a community for them,” Guarino said.