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DeSales Students Help Build House for Habitat for Humanity

by David Oblas Nov 5, 2018

habitat for humanity

Eighteen students at DeSales University spent part of their winter break giving back to those in need. The Center for Service and Social Justice hosted a service trip to Jacksonville, Florida, where students helped to build homes for Habitat for Humanity.

“I think our students learn so much,” says Jaime Gerhart, director of the Center for Service and Social Justice. “I think it just gives you respect for the craft and trade as well. You definitely have to have a real gift to do that.” 

Students worked on two homes and a warehouse and did everything from painting and caulking to siding and drilling. It was the largest group ever for a winter break trip. “We got an entire house painted and sided in two days,” says Joey Letcher ’18. “It went from this shell of a building to something that resembled a home.” 

The trip isn’t just about giving back; it’s also educational. Students learn about the process families have to go through to get a Habitat home. Recipients have to complete 300 hours of what’s known as sweat equity on their home or another. “A lot of them [students] go in thinking these are free homes for people,” says Gerhart.

Some of the students, like Letcher and Abby Manwiller ’20, had never been on a service trip before. They both call it an eye-opening, transformative experience. Manwiller recalled painting a bedroom and looking out the window to see a school across the street. Her mind flashed to a picture of a child sleeping in that bedroom and she immediately knew why she was there. “I'm so glad I go to a school that promotes things like this and promotes making a difference,” she says. Adds Letcher, “You're not only bettering the world around you, you're bettering yourself. It makes your heart whole.”

Students like Tom Lang ’17 served as role models for the others. This was Lang’s fourth service trip with DeSales and he’s planning one more before graduation. He calls them addicting. “After you do enough of these trips, you kind of get to do a little bit of everything,” he says. “The only thing I haven't seen is the house complete and given to the family.”

Another student, Emily Gallagher ’17, has been active in volunteering since she was in high school. When it came time to choose a college, she searched for one that is service oriented. “It's something not a lot of colleges do or don't do as well,” she says. 

The Center for Service and Social Justice also volunteers with Habitat for Humanity in Phillipsburg, New Jersey every month. And it’s gearing up for five service trips over spring break to Lafayette and New Orleans, Louisiana; Pittsboro, North Carolina; Washington, D.C.; and Wilmington, Delaware.

Gerhart encourages all students to sign up for a service trip and promises a memorable experience. “Even if you're nervous about doing something like this, just try,” she says. “Because everyone there, it's all been our first day. The more students we get involved, the more we can do.”

She’d also like to see faculty members and other employees become more active in the center’s events, like Relay for Life. “Our students love fundraisers that involve people who are employed here. It just builds a better sense of community here like we're all in this together. It makes their day to know that the University cares about their events and supports them.”