March 18, 1999
Vol. 18 No. 12

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    [third-year Laura Miller]Third-year Laura Miller hauls old carpet from St. Lukes Place, where University studnets have been vounteering their time refurbishing the building. The old convent is being remodeled to serve as transitional housing for people with AIDS.

    Students work hard for humanity while taking their annual spring break

    By Jennifer Leovy
    News Office

    During spring break next week, approximately 30 University students will replace Frisbees and swimsuits with hammers and carpenters’ pants to participate in the alternative spring break sponsored by Habitat for Humanity International.

    Officially titled “Collegiate Challenge,” the spring break concept was created by Habitat in 1989. Steve Messinetti, director of Campus Chapters and Youth Programs for Habitat for Humanity International, said more than 8,000 students are registered to participate. Through hands-on construction, students work toward eliminating poor housing from the world and see how Habitat for Humanity works in other parts of the country.

    “When we travel to other cities to do construction, the community is so grateful to us they constantly bring us treats and cook us meals,” said Rachel Airmet, a fourth-year and member of the campus chapter. “You eat very well and have a great time meeting students from other colleges.”

    This year, three different teams of 10 Chicago students will travel to one of three locations: Baldwin, Mich.; Newport News, Va.; or Vicksburg, Miss. Second-year Chen Fong Goh has previous Habitat experience, but this will be his first alternative spring break. “This trip gives me an opportunity to interact with a segment of society that I would otherwise not have the chance to see––the rural poor,” said Goh.

    The entire trip costs $105 per student and includes transportation, food and lodging. Although the trip is sponsored by the national organization, the campus chapter receives funding from the University Community Service Center and Student Government.

    According to Airmet, the spring break trip is a great way to recruit students with an interest in community service for Habitat work. Professional construction workers provide on-site management and training, so construction experience is not required.

    Second-year Craig Brooker summed up the benefits: “How else can one take a road trip to a warmer place, meet 10 new people and help the poor––all in the course of a week for a mere $100?”

    Because Habitat for Humanity does not have official construction sites on Chicago’s South Side, the campus chapter focuses less on new construction and more on refurbishment projects in local neighborhoods. The Rev. David Grainger, Director of United Protestant Campus Ministry at the University, has connected students with projects in their own community.

    “Typically we work with community development organized at a grassroots level by such organizations as churches,” said Grainger. Because most of these organizations are small, local groups, funding for construction comes in gradually and progress can be slow, he said. Work on a co-housing project in Woodlawn to develop mixed-income facilities has been stalled for that very reason, although Grainger says work may resume this spring.

    The students’ recent work includes remodeling at St. Lukes Place, near 84th Street and Saginaw Avenue, where Samaritan Housing Services in conjunction with area United Methodist Conference is converting a 1928 convent into a transition home for people with AIDS.

    At 49th Street and Wabash Avenue, students are working on a project for Matthew House, a 20-bed, transitional living space for men scheduled to open this June.

    According to the Rev. Sanja Rickette Stinson, executive director for Matthew House, the students’ contributions have been vast. “With their manpower, we’ve been able to build momentum to get more work done in a short period of time,” said Stinson. “It’s been wonderful. We can’t wait for them to come back.”