URI student volunteers share experiences while building ‘Habitat’ homes

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KINGSTON, RI- February 23, 2012 – At one time, the Roger Williams dining hall was a noisy place, filled with the clattering of plates and the hustle and bustle of students grabbing a bite to eat between classes. Now, the dining hall is still noisy, but not in the same way.

For the past two weeks, Habitat for Humanity student volunteers have been filling the dining hall with sounds of hammering nails and sawing wood that will eventually be used for the Old North Village project, which is just off the Kingston campus. When completed, this project will consist of four affordable family homes.

Blake Cosca, a freshman from Stanford, Conn., sawed wood during his first volunteer session on a recent Saturday.

“I have had previous experience with construction and building houses, so I figured I would volunteer around 8 to 16 hours a week for a good cause that I am familiar with,” said Cosca.

However, most of the student volunteers had no construction experience before joining. The four committees- fundraising, public relations, service learning, and social- allow members to be involved in a wide range of activities outside of home building.

Kathryn Phillips, a freshman majoring in textiles, fashion merchandising and design from Landenberg, Penn., made her first volunteer construction appearance that morning. She became a member of the organization’s fund raising committee last fall. According to Phillips, her major courses focus on decorations and colors, the construction gave her a new perspective on design.

“At first I was nervous, I’m not really a handy person; but even though it’s only the first day, I’ve already learned better carpentry techniques, such as nailing together wood panels to create structures for the doors and windows of the houses,” said Phillips.

Phillips joined the student Habitat for Humanity chapter because she thought it was a good way to get involved in the community and meet new people who also wanted to volunteer for a good cause.

Scott Andrews, a senior political science major from North Kingstown, R.I., who is now president of the campus Habitat chapter, also entered the organization without any previous carpentry skills.

“I’ve gained a ton of experience volunteering for Habitat for Humanity for the past three years, from hammering nails and using power tools, to roofing, siding, and masonry work. I couldn’t do any of that before I joined,” said Andrews.

The fundraising and construction for the Old North Village project began this past October, but the planning process has been going on for the last year and a half. The University of Rhode Island recently made a contribution of over $14,000 to South County Habitat for Humanity, which will aid in the completion of the village. Over the years, URI has donated almost $65,000 for the Old North Village project to South County Habitat along with a multitude of volunteer hours.

“I want to work toward eliminating homelessness in South County,” stated Andrews.

Along with volunteering his own time, Andrews has helped other students get involved as well. He brought Charley Marshall, a senior history major who is also from North Kingstown, to his first meeting three years ago.

“I started realizing I could make a change and I’ve been hooked ever since,” said Marshall, who is now the vice president of the chapter.

Kari Lukovics, junior public relations major from Blackstone, Mass., first started volunteering for Habitat when she went on the alternate spring break trip to New Orleans last year.

“The trip helped me realize that there are plenty of ways to aid those in need both locally and nationally and that I could be a part of something that is powerful and meaningful. Coming back to URI, I knew I wanted to continue to do something that would make a difference,” said Lukovics.

This program has enabled her to meet new people, get more involved in the University community, and learn new skills like painting and putting together window frames and doors. Lukovics is now the public relations chairperson on the Habitat for Humanity executive board, where she can spread the good word about the organization and also get experience for her major.

“Habitat for Humanity is a powerful organization because it helps provide affordable housing, something that I had taken for granted for most of my life, and it provides it to those who need it most,” said Lukovics.

A few of the volunteers have had the opportunity to meet one of the families that will be living in Old North village. Cora Stone will be living in the house that is closest to being completed with her two sons, ages 3 and 6.

“Habitat for Humanity owns the land that the houses are being built on, and will retain possession of it in case the residents decide to move out over the years,” said Gail Faris, assistant director of the URI Women’s Center before her retirement last July.

Stone’s house, which the volunteers are hoping to have finished by April if the weather stays mild, will have three bedrooms and a soft yellow exterior. Residents of Habitat homes are required to volunteer as well, which is how the students met Stone while they were all volunteering at South County Habitat’s and ReStore resale shop.

“It’s hard to estimate a completion date for the entire project, especially since it all depends on funding, but we’re hoping to have it finished within the next two years,” said Andrews.

The University of Rhode Island Habitat for Humanity chapter meets every Thursday at 6 p.m. in room 308 of the Memorial Union. On Feb. 23, the group will hold an informational meeting for prospective homeowners for the other three houses at 6 p.m. in Atrium 2 of the Memorial Union.

“If students are really interested in making a difference, our chapter is very welcoming and always looking for new people,” said Marshall.

Interested students can email their questions to URIhabitat@gmail.com. For those looking to support this organization, tax-deductable donations can be made payable to South County Habitat for Humanity or by visiting its website at www.southcountyhabitat.org.

Habitat for Humanity believes that every person should have a decent, safe and affordable place to live. Through volunteer labor and donations, Habitat and its homeowner families have built or rehabilitated more than 500,000 houses. A nonprofit, nondenominational Christian housing ministry, Habitat invites people of all backgrounds, races and religions to build together in partnership.

Pictured above

HABITAT VOLUNTEERS STOP AND POSE: Scott Andrews, Kari Lukovics, and Charley

Marshall stand in front of the almost finished home.