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April 30, 2003
Students take the lead in Habitat coalition
By Debbie Ehrman

Beginning this Monday, National Volunteer Week helps highlight the work being done by selfless individuals and groups throughout America. The increased role students have taken in the newly formed Ohio University Student Coalition for Habitat for Humanity illustrates how important this sense of volunteerism is to the Ohio University experience.

Three years ago, the Ohio University Coalition - comprising faculty, staff, administrators and students - formed to assist the work of Athens County Habitat for Humanity. This year, University students have taken charge of the group, creating the Ohio University Student Coalition.

Video - Click to Play"Our students are particularly qualified to manage and coordinate this endeavor," says Assistant to the President Nancy Crist, who has played a lead role in the campus coalition. "I've noticed a strong community service spirit among our students. They seem to carry this generosity into our community. We're fortunate to have these dedicated and students interested in our Habitat efforts."

There are approximately 50 registered student volunteers who organize fundraisers and service projects and help build houses with other Athens County coalitions. Their hard work and unique management approach has helped the Student Coalition prove itself to the other organizations. The students hope to have enough money raised to build a house within the next year.

"We students have been able to actually spearhead the coalition," says Student Coalition President Eli Mackiewicz. "It's exciting to see things coming together - the excitement builds each step of the way - as we come closer to success. The most rewarding parts have been working with fellow students toward a common goal and meeting with members of the affiliate."

Students at Ohio University seem to be drawn to community service. In fact, approximately 4,000 students contribute more than 205,000 hours of volunteer work in the area each year.

Jamie Fox is a graduate assistant with the University's Center for Community Service. Fox, pursuing a master's degree in cultural studies in education as well as a women's studies certificate, specializes in abuse prevention.

Quote"I enjoy talking to students interested in volunteering and helping them interact with the outside community," says Fox, who began working for the center as an AmeriCorps*VISTA volunteer. "We take organizations in need of volunteers and match them with interested students. It's good to bridge that gap. That's truly the best part my job."

Campus organizations like the Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity also help coordinate volunteerism efforts, says junior Judith Sapp.

"I've learned so many things and made many new connections through volunteering," says Sapp, an early education major. "Organizations are always looking for help. Even if it's just taking 20 minutes of your time to speak to people in a home, you can still tell you're making someone's day."

Habitat for Humanity is one of several programs giving students a chance to give back to the community and meet people of various backgrounds while creating a positive experience for all involved. Habitat represents a great opportunity for students to learn life lessons and practical skills outside of the classroom.

There are many families in Athens County who work hard to provide for their families, but cannot afford to live in a decent house or to pay a high-interest mortgage. The families Habitat helps do not get a free house; rather, Habitat arranges a 20-year interest-free mortgage for the family, and the family is charged all expenses incurred in the building process.

While Habitat for Humanity is just the means by which these families find new housing, it represents so much more than mere bricks and mortar. It helps instill in them a new hope for the future.

Volunteering also inspires those helping the less fortunate. "Volunteering definitely helps me put my priorities in order," says Sapp, who has worked with ATCO, the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation and the upcoming Relay For Life. "It's such a positive experience and I would recommend it to everyone. It's good for the soul."

Debbie Ehrman is a student writer for University Communications and Marketing. Joseph Hughes, a writer for University Communications and Marketing, contributed to the story


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