LU’s chapter of Habitat for Humanity traveled for a week to Liberty City, Florida, located on the north side of Miami over spring break. They took part in constructing six houses, learned about poverty housing and spent time in the Miami area.
With the aid of trip organizer Emily McLane ’14, and president and vice president Eli Hungerford ’12 and Katie Boknevitz ’13, 40 students attended. Both regularly-attending Habitat for Humanity members and other Lawrence students took part in the build.
Habitat for Humanity is a non-profit organization whose aim is to end poverty housing. They select individuals who sign up through a rigorous application process, which ensures that the houses built are taken care of and are not just handouts to people who cannot maintain them.
Through Habitat for Humanity’s Collegiate Challenge program, Lawrence students were able to directly help with the construction of six homes. In the past, students have built homes in North Carolina, New York, Fort Lauderdale and El Salvador.
Miami might seem like an idyllic resort to most Lawrentians, but it faces serious problems with poverty.
“When we think of Miami, I think most people [think of] its beaches and [its] over-the-top nightlife,” said volunteer Tammy Tran ’14.
However, Liberty City, better known as the location of a Grand Theft Auto video game, is a small area of Miami in which an alarming 47.5 percent of the population falls below the poverty line. By living in Liberty City for the week, students became very aware of this.
“Living at Lawrence, I’m definitely guilty of putting too much distance between myself and the problem of housing poverty in at-risk neighborhoods,” said Tran. “Poverty housing is definitely a problem I am surrounded with and grew up with as a native of Queens, NYC. But I’ll admit I often go through a day at Lawrence forgetting to appreciate simple things like a roof over my head.”
After getting settled in, students quickly realized the challenges of manual labor and construction. Every job had to be done impeccably well, or the structure would not stand up straight. Working long hours without a break was extremely difficult and physically tiring.
Many Lawrentians took a part in installing drywall on the ceilings and walls, and were involved with putting in walls before they were plastered.
“The process took a lot of patience, care and perfection,” said McLane.
Despite the strenuous work, many students enjoyed working in the company of each other. “I particularly enjoyed working with friends. It made the trip much more rewarding to be able to make a difference with people you really like,” said volunteer Melina Jaharis ’15. “It was also rewarding to do good for someone else, and I felt proud to see my own work.”
Throughout the process, students also learned about the prevalent and growing problem of poverty housing.
“It’s a huge problem. People don’t understand the scope of homelessness and how the problem won’t be solved unless it is addressed,” said McLane. In addition, students interacted with the homeowners themselves, who were required to put in 500 hours of their own physical labor. “Many [people without homes] are extremely hard-working, and not how someone would typically view someone without a home. These people are still trying, and many of them [were] employed.”
After the houses are built, homeowners who live in a Habitat for Humanity home are allowed to request that Habitat to help with home maintenance if any problems arise, and are expected to keep houses well-maintained.
“The presence of one house that is taken care of can encourage a whole neighborhood to look better,” said McLane.
When students weren’t building, they enjoyed leisure time spending the entire day at South Beach, and one of the supporters of the Habitat for Humanity project held a dinner with Cuban food. Many volunteers ate at a Cuban cafÃ©, as Miami is known for its Cuban cuisine. At the end of the trip, all the colleges working together at Liberty City were invited to a going-away party.
The next big event that Habitat for Humanity is presenting is its annual Shack-a-Thon, an event that aims to raise awareness for poverty housing and act as a fundraiser for the Fox Cities’ Habitat for Humanity chapter.
Organizations or groups of Lawrence students build shacks out of any materials that they can find and, weather permitting, spend the night in their abodes. People can vote for their favorite shack with a donation. The shacks are set up on Main Hall Green, and during the night, there is usually a movie viewing.
Habitat for Humanity meets weekly at Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. on the fourth floor of Warch. Students interested in joining or attending should contact Hungerford or Boknevitz.