The Habitat for Humanity building project, in which student and faculty volunteers help construct a house for a family in need, is one of the many opportunities that the school offers for students to give back to their community.
Habitat for Humanity is an international nonprofit organization that was founded in 1967 and is devoted to building affordable houses around the world for families in poverty. Atlanta’s chapter of Habitat has been running since 1983 and has become one of the largest of Habitat’s 1,500 affiliates in the United States, building homes for working families primarily in Fulton County for the past 32 years. They have built and renovated over 1,360 houses, creating homes for over 5,000 family members. The houses are built with green building standards, which make energy-efficient homes that protect the environment and reduce utility bills.
Families interested in a Habitat home must go through a rigorous application process and must meet all the requirements, including a steady income, good credit, and being a first-time homebuyer. Once the family that will buy the Habitat house is chosen, the house is not simply handed to them. They must invest 250 “sweat equity hours,” which requires them to help volunteers build their house and other houses or to work in the Atlanta Habitat offices, warehouse, or ReStore. The selected families are also required to attend 12 classes that educate them on financial literacy as well as basic home maintenance. The family pays for their house through a 30-year, no- interest mortgage, which is made possible because the building costs are covered by volunteer groups.
“Habitat is not just handing [the families] a house; [the families] are purchasing it, they’re working on it, and they’re learning how to maintain it,” said community service coordinator Stan Moor. “I think that’s one of the coolest things about Habitat.”
Westminster has volunteered at the builds for the past 24 years. Together with Pace, Marist, Woodward, and Lovett, Westminster and its partner schools raise $75,000 in order to pay for the resources needed to build a house, such as shingles, wood, and windows. The largest source of donations from Westminster comes from the Habitat house banks that are distributed to every student in the Lower and Middle Schools. These donations make up about half of the total amount of money raised by the school each year.
“[Westminster’s] portion is always between $15,000 to $20,000 dollars, and that’s a lot of money to raise in one year,” said Moor. “Just about everything we do, from the penny wars at homecoming to several bake sales we do in the year, helps raise money for our contribution.”
The five contributing independent schools also send volunteers to the building site for seven straight Saturdays in a row up until November. A different group of volunteers are sent from the school every week, including students, teachers, parents, and alumni. Jan Allen, Kevin Mylod, Jere Wells, Callie Crab, and Henrik Malmberg are just a few of the teachers who have participated in the builds this year. In order to volunteer, students must be at least 16 years old. In fact, volunteers must be 18 to work on any Habitat worksite, but the organization adjusted the rules in order to accommodate high school students. Students interested in helping out sign up whenever there is an available slot, and each school sends about seven to eight volunteers every week.
“When I was there, we were caulking, which is basically filling in cracks between windowsills and the outside walls,” said senior Margaret Maxwell. “I mostly painted the outside of house, and others were finishing putting on the roof and doing final touches, because it was one of the last weekends.”
Students like to volunteer at the builds for various reasons, such as having an opportunity to meet new people, being able to give back to the community, or continuing passions found in other countries.
“I went on the Guatemala trip, where we built a house,” said senior Patrick Lopez. “I wanted to do that in Atlanta, too, after I experienced what it was like.”
On the last day of the build, Habitat hosts a dedication service, where the heads of the organization come to the site and present the keys of the house to the new homeowner while representatives from each school present housewarming gifts. In addition, some students talk about why they have enjoyed coming to the builds, and the homeowner gives a few words of gratitude.
“My favorite part is the dedication service,” said Moor. “It’s always a really special to see a family that you’ve gotten to know over the past month, and they’re moving into a new house that you helped build.”
The most important part of the Habitat builds for many students is being able to see the difference they make in the lives of real people and feeling that their contribution the community is truly appreciated.
“[The build] was really meaningful,” said Maxwell. “I like giving back to Atlanta, because sometimes we forget that there’s so much poverty just in our own city.”