Habitat for Humanity builds campus ties

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of UT Habitat for Humanity

Twenty-eight years after its founding, UT’s Habitat for Humanity student organization is focusing on building a volunteer base to keep the tradition of changing the lives of Austin families.

Sitting around a large square table after another late Monday night meeting is the eight student leadership team behind UT’s Habitat for Humanity chapter including government senior and HFH president Stephanie Slapik, who has been with the organization for three years. The mission is still the same: how to advocate for more awareness for the organization on campus, fundraise, and grow the student volunteer base vital to constructing homes for Austin families.

An affiliate member of Austin’s larger Habitat for Humanity branch, the University subchapter coordinates student volunteer days and fundraising goals throughout the semester. To help raise funding for home projects, UT Habitat partners with local companies, most recently State Farm Insurance, who matched a fundraising campaign totaling $10,000 toward future construction projects. Meeting these fundraising goals means that UT Habitat can continue scheduling project days, as they cover part of the construction cost and the student organization’s volunteer fees.   

“We’ve had good fundraising,” Slapik said. “We’ve had nine (building days) last semester and were on the road for about nine again this semester and they’re long days. We get there around eight and sometimes we’re there ‘til around 4 p.m.”

Not only do low-income families benefit from construction projects, but veterans and people who are disabled, low-income or elderly can qualify for future projects. In addition to home building, UT Habitat contributes equally to home repair projects for those who struggle with affordability as they did March 25th with a community home re-painting project. English senior and HFH secretary Natalie Barden said she fondly remembers presenting a newly painted home to an elderly woman the subchapter helped.

“She was so sweet,' Barden said. “She was like, ‘This looks like a whole new house. I wouldn’t have had the means to do this without you guys volunteering.’ It’s lovely to see how visibly appreciative they are.”

On April 8th, the organization will be passing on the keys to another family. For many student volunteers, it will be the first key-giving ceremony they will be attending. For new homeowners, a valuable part of the process is the opportunity to earn work equity hours by helping in the building of not only their own, but other family’s homes. This cycle of contributing and volunteering helps Habitat for Humanity continue its core mission across Austin.

“We have multiple (projects) right now,” UT Habitat secretary Natalie Barden said. “We have houses in Elgin and just completed a home repair twenty minutes away from here.”

Beyond the tangible value of the work that UT Habitat does, Slapik said volunteers receive not only volunteering credit, but also a great wealth of construction knowledge and personal empowerment.

“The cool thing when somebody joins Habitat is they don’t have to have experience in construction,” Slapik said. You spend your whole day working on some part of a house and at the end of the day you will really know what you’re doing; that’s a good feeling.”

Robert Keading, HFH member who has volunteered with the organization for five years, said he enjoys working with HFH because of the impact he is able to create in families’ lives. The UT Habitat student organization will continue contributing volunteer resources to continue a tradition of building and repairing Austin homes.

“The time and work that volunteers, students or just ordinary people contribute shows,” said Keading. “These families’ lives are forever changed by their work.”

Correction: The original article said UT Habitat partnered with Allstate in a fundraising campaign, but they actually partnered with State Farm Insurance. The Texan regrets this error.