Building Character Before the Holidays

Texas Tech students and staff members provide homes for low-income families in San Antonio community.

Justyna & Cathey

Erin Justyna and Ahalee Cathey

When Texas Tech University senior Ahalee Cathey signed up for her first service break with the Center for Active Learning and Undergraduate Engagement (CALUE), she didn't think a service project would give her as much insight as it did.

“Going into this trip, I thought I would just be serving for a week and have a good time,” she said. “But I think this was my favorite trip I have ever been on. I really liked the people I worked with and enjoyed the projects we did. This trip gave me a whole new web of friends, and it was a huge learning experience for me.”

Twelve Texas Tech students and staff members recently traveled to San Antonio to build and rehabilitate homes with Habitat for Humanity (HFH). The trip was part of a new program developed by CALUE to facilitate hands-on and experiential learning for students and faculty.

The group spent its first two days near downtown San Antonio rehabilitating existing HFH homes to prepare them for new families to move in. Students helped clean the homes, put in new light bulbs, painted walls and made other needed repairs.

“It is important that institutions of higher learning serve as stewards of the communities and provide students opportunities to contribute beyond the classroom,” Nellis said. “We are proud of our student body and the selfless acts they display daily. Outreach projects like Habitat for Humanity are rewarding experiences, not only for our students, but for those directly impacted.”

CALUE in San Antonio

Twelve Texas Tech students and staff members recently traveled to San Antonio to build and rehabilitate homes with Habitat for Humanity.

On the last day of the trip, the group built a HFH home from the slab up. Cathey recalls this as her favorite day, because she could see the group's hard work come to fruition.

“There was a huge difference from when we got there to when we left,” she said. “It felt really good to build the house in one day, and it shows we did something meaningful.

“We don't realize it all the time, but a house is really important. If you give money to a person in need, it won't last for a long period of time. But a house will last much longer, and I know it was a huge step for the family we built it.”

Working alongside the group was the family the house was for, who are refugees from Myanmar.

“Although the family couldn't speak English, you could just tell they were so excited about the house,” Cathey said. “As they were working, they had the biggest smiles on their faces. We could see how thankful they were for the home and how proud they were of the work they put into the home.”

Habitat for Humanity builds homes for low- to very low-income families who are unable to qualify for conventional financing but are willing to work hard to improve their family's lives. The program builds affordable housing with volunteers and partners where the home loans are interest-free and the mortgage income is paid forward to build other HFH homes.

CALUE in San Antonio

Students helped clean the homes, put in new light bulbs, painted walls and made other needed repairs.

The program's most important strategy is “sweat equity,” where each homeowner is required to complete a minimum of 400 hours of labor dedicated to building their homes and homes of their neighbors, as well as investing in their own self-improvement. Sweat equity reduces the amount of paid labor needed for a house and instills a sense of pride and ownership for each family.

“The trip to San Antonio was a humbling and fulfilling experience for both staff members and students who took part,” CALUE assistant director Erin Justyna said. “Throughout reflection activities, participants spoke of a desire to continue to serve their communities in the future, whether with an ongoing relationship with Habitat for Humanity or on CALUE service breaks.”

CALUE plans to continue its work with HFH and expand its projects into other parts of Texas.

Trips have been planned for 2015 that are both weeklong and weekend trips. The next service trip will be during spring break (March 16-20) and will take place in El Paso. Students who participate will be a part of a border awareness experience where students will work with the Annunciation House, which operates houses of hospitality for migrants and refugees. The objective of the trip is to raise awareness about the issues facing the border such as immigration, economic development, human rights and social injustice.

Cathey said she plans to participate in more service projects with CALUE in the future because of what she learned in San Antonio.

“This trip made me realize that there is always something to do, even if it's just sweeping the floor,” she said. “Coming into this trip I knew I wanted to make this house the best it could be, but after realizing that some people may not have good homes or homes at all it made me more conscious of what we were doing.

“I learned how to work with other people with different personality types and also got to participate in hands-on learning while building the house. It was a learning curve, but actually doing the work helped me learn. I really enjoyed this service project, and I look forward to doing more in the future.”

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Center for Undergraduate Research

The Center for Undergraduate Research, recently established under the Office of the Provost, seeks to engage the university community in undergraduate research initiatives.

The center provides support and funding for undergraduate students and faculty while developing innovative programs and activities to enhance undergraduate research at the university level and beyond. Undergraduates engaged through the center and its cohorts have the opportunity to apply concepts from their college courses to real life situations in order to further their creative achievement.

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