Twelve university students and two staff members rode a bus for 800 miles - much of it through snow, rain and fog - last week to spend their spring break working construction in Sumter. The Brock University students seemed …
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Twelve university students and two staff members rode a bus for 800 miles - much of it through snow, rain and fog - last week to spend their spring break working construction in Sumter. The Brock University students seemed to revel in helping to build the 122nd home for Sumter Habitat for Humanity.
And the warm, spring-like weather made the work even better for the crew from St. Catharines in Ontario, Canada, they agreed.
Staff lead Desirae Stack said Brock University has been participating in Collegiate Challenge for seven years. This is her second.
The program is "opened up to the whole university," Stack said. "We've got students studying in a lot of different areas - sports management, medical, education, business."
Each student also must pay $850 for what has become known as a "winter retreat" and an "alternative spring break," according to Sumter Habitat Development Coordinator Geneva Phillips. The fee covers the chartered bus and two overnight hotel stays while traveling, Stack said, as well as a donation to Habitat and other expenses.
Community members also assist in the Collegiate Challenge, some with construction, others with housing and meals - the Brock group stayed at First Baptist Church, and last Tuesday, KFC provided lunch.
"Sumter's Master Gardeners also assist with landscaping," Phillips said.
Contractor Bob Brown has for many years provided volunteers with instruction and assistance as needed, ensuring that Habitat houses are sound. He's retiring this year and was on site working with Randy Wells, who will become the new Habitat main contractor.
Bliss Gatenby, a senior business communications major volunteering for the third year, said what brings her back "is the people's sense of community.
"I came back last year and talked to a gentleman who got a Habitat house. I found it very impactful."
Gatenby's parents, on a road trip that brought them close to Sumter last week, stopped by to see her one day during the Collegiate Challenge.
"They know how big an impact this has had on me," she said, "and they support me 100 percent. They're glad I incorporate this in my life."
The Brock team has met the family that is buying the home she worked on, Gatenby said, gesturing toward the other houses on the street. "It's nice to know the family you build a home for and that they get to grow up in this neighborhood."
Bobby Davis agreed.
"When I was 14 and my brother was 4, my mother bought a Habitat home," he said, putting down his hammer for a moment. He is volunteering his time and skills to work on the house alongside the Brock University students, other community volunteers and students from other colleges participating in the Collegiate Challenge during their spring breaks.
"It was great to have our own home," he said. "I'm thankful we had a place we could call our own."
Davis and his family put in 400 hours of "sweat equity," required of all Habitat home buyers as down payment on their home, Phillips said. The families also attend financial management and homeowner education classes.
Having their own home was especially impactful for Davis' family, he said.
"Our faith grew stronger every day," Davis said. "We're still in that home. After 21 years, my mom paid off (the 30-year mortgage)."
He and Gatenby both said they believe in Habitat's philosophy of offering "a hand up, not a hand out."
"If I had to pick one charity to contribute to, I'd pick Habitat," Davis said.
Volunteering their spring break is not all work, Phillips said.
After working all day each day, the students had a tour of Sumter with local historian Sammy Way, participated in a trivia night, had dinner and sang karaoke at a local restaurant and hosted a dinner for Sumter Habitat staff and other volunteers.
"We have loved having the opportunity to get so close with this great school," Phillips said, " the team from Brock University has kicked off construction for the year as they typically are the first school to come.
"We have five schools joining us this year throughout the months of February and March and a final school group joining us in late May."
The college groups will continue work on the 122nd house.
In addition to Brock University, participating in the Collegiate Challenge 2018 will be Husson University from Bangor, Maine; Boston College, Boston; Washington College, Chestertown, Maryland; and Saint Joseph's University, Philadelphia.
Phillips said Sumter Habitat's goal is to complete five homes each year for families who meet the organization's three qualifications for applying to the affordable homeownership program:
1. The need for decent, affordable housing;
2. Ability to pay an affordable mortgage; and
3. The willingness to partner with Sumter Habitat for Humanity's ministry in building their own house and the houses of others.
Emphasizing that community volunteers are always needed and welcome, Phillips said, "Sumter Habitat really relies on our community to help build these homes, but we have volunteer opportunities off site as well. We have lots of opportunities to help."
To volunteer or for more information, visit habitatsumter.org or call (803) 775-0757.
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