After more than 26 years, Westminster has continued to renew its annual commitment to partner with Atlanta Habitat for Humanity for service projects for its 27th year. Since its original build over 26 years ago, Westminster has enlisted students and faculty alike from the school to collaborate with students of other schools as well as volunteers from Habitat for Humanity to build a house from scratch. This year, beginning on Sept. 17, each Saturday until Nov. 3, students from Westminster and other independent and public schools came together to construct the house and eventually dedicate the building to an underprivileged family in need of a secure home. Additionally, as a part of the tradition set forth by Habitat for Humanity, the homeowner participates in creating their future house.
“It sprang up from the idea of getting local area schools together to give back to the community by working together,” said Ms. Meghan James, the community service coordinator at the Glenn Institute. “Instead of playing in competition on the field or in the gym, it provides an opportunity for them to come together to do something in community.”
Habitat for Humanity is centered around the philosophy of “partnership housing,” where people in need of affordable housing and adequate living situations work alongside volunteers to build affordable houses for those in need to live in. The houses built are created at no profit, and payments for the house are combined with no-interest loans supplied by proponents of the cause and resources gained from fundraising to formulate “The Fund for Humanity,” which allows Habitat for Humanity to build more houses to dedicate to those in need.
“I think the purpose of Westminster funding Habitat is to get involved in our community – not only to build a good reputation for ourselves, but to really have a positive impact on our city,” said junior Will DeWalt.
Habitat for Humanity is a great way for students to get involved in the life of the school and give back to their community in a unique experience. New volunteers, as well as returning ones, came to aid in the annual building this year, eager to work on the project.
“I chose to volunteer for Habitat because I wanted to do something beneficial to our community that really interested me,” said DeWalt. “I was interested in the whole process of building the house, and I felt like I could personally impact the mission and the family.”
The build was broadcasted to the student body through the school’s Instagram page as well as Wildcat News and the Student Announcements, so potential volunteers were able to hear about the event through a variety of sources.
“I first heard about [Habitat for Humanity building] through the student news, and then my mother suggested it to me,” said junior Nicholas Buhay. “I had given money to the cause in the past, but I had never actually worked on the build site. I thought about it for a while and concluded that it would be a good way to spend my time, instead of sleeping and watching TV all Friday, I could be participating in something to help others.”
On the site of the build, volunteers along with the eventual homeowner helped construct the house in a variety of ways. Some volunteers nailed in floorboards, others placed the roofing down, while other participants helped situate the door into the front of the home. During the build, volunteers conversed while they worked toward the end goal of finishing the house for it to be dedicated.
“The volunteers did everything from nailing the first floorboards down to putting shingles on the roof and spending the whole day up on the roof,” said James. “Putting in baseboards to painting to landscaping, they even put the sod down. Pretty much everything that goes into the house other than the plumbing, electricity, and wiring, the volunteers and future homeowner did.
The volunteers for the project got to collaborate with others from different schools to come to the end goal of a finished house.
“We got assigned to different groups with different people from other schools, so we worked together with students and faculty from different schools to build the house,” said Buhay. “One thing that we had to do was to nail wooden planks onto the side of the house and on the first day, my group had to push trusses onto the roofs with ladders. It was enjoyable to meet new people and try to figure out how to best go about building the house with our different strengths.”
Habitat for Humanity leaders also aided in educating the eventual homeowner about their oncoming responsibilities. They explained how the process of buying the house would work, in which the owner buys the house at a zero percent interest mortgage from Atlanta Habitat for Humanity. For the first year, they rent the house from Habitat for Humanity, balancing life as well as keeping up with their monthly mortgage payments. In that same year, the homeowner attends a series of homeowner classes that explain finance and the responsibilities of homeownership to make sure that the transition to homeownership is successful and smooth.
Habitat for Humanity eventually presents the house to the new homeowner on the “dedication day.” The volunteers that worked on the house, as well as the service workers from Atlanta Habitat for Humanity, gather to watch the dedication.
“On the last day, the owner of the house received the house and we go to see them accept it,” said Buhay. “It was pretty cool to see them because they were very thankful and appreciative of all the hard work that the volunteers put into the house. It was just great to see them happy.”
Each year Habitat for Humanity aims to enlist volunteers to participate in community service, and through the building of houses each year, Westminster students and faculty are given an opportunity to take part. The organization also works towards opening their volunteers’ eyes, especially the students, to the responsibilities and demands of owning and taking care of a house in a stable manner. Additionally, the volunteers are able to learn from the new homeowner by talking and conversing with them and their family, to find out what brought them to Habitat for Humanity, and what it means for them to now have a house. The project also establishes a connection between Westminster and the surrounding community and aims to set the volunteers on a path of compassion and empathy for those less fortunate than themselves.
“It was awesome to actually hear from the new homeowner because when she brought her family up and talked to us, I realized how much everything we did meant, and I felt like I made a nice contribution,” said Dewalt.