Senior Matthew Lashmet said knew he needed to go on a volunteer trip before applying to medical school.
While performing manual labor in 90 degree heat differed from his previous spring breaks spent partying with fraternity brothers, Lashmet said the Habitat for Humanity Collegiate Challenge was everything he could have hoped for in a trip.
“I wish I had done it at a younger age,” Lashmet said. “I would have, without a doubt, done it multiple years in a row.”
Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit housing organization that works to provide safe and affordable homes for those living in poverty.
A group of 15 IU students, 12 of which were new to the organization, participated in a Habitat for Humanity partner project called “A Brush With Kindness” in Fort Pierce, Florida, last week.
Founded by World Changer, a partner organization of Habitat, the project restores homes for families that are typically elderly, live on fixed incomes, or cannot afford renovations that would save them from housing code violations and eviction.
The team from IU spent the first two days of their trip restoring a house for a family with two young children. They worked about 16 hours to fix a broken front pillar, falling roof, rickety front door and cracking paint.
Although the students had limited interactions with the homeowners, freshman Olivia Kavanaugh said the family's positive feedback was a highlight of her experience.
“It gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling,” Kavanaugh said. “You get to see how much it means to them.”
For the remainder of the week, the students worked at the St. Lucie Habitat for Humanity ReStore, a nonprofit home improvement store that sells donated goods. All of the shop’s proceeds fund homes for low-income families who partner with Habitat for Humanity.
Team leader and junior Tin Duong said the disorganization and uncleanliness of the warehouse deterred many customers from contributing to and buying from the ReStore.
The students cleaned trash, cleared bushes, painted several trailers and even built a porch for the warehouse.
Lashmet said working at the store was less emotional than directly helping a family in need, but the possibility of increasing the store's sales made it just as important for future Habitat homeowners.
While this was his third year participating in Habitat for Humanity at IU and second year attending the Florida trip, Duong said seeing new volunteers learn about Habitat helped him finally understand the importance of their service.
“Every stroke of paint that you put onto the house — that's a luxury they can't afford,” Duong said.
Since most of the participants were new to the organization, Duong was the only person they knew prior to the trip.
However, Duong said the 17-hour car ride from Bloomington to Fort Pierce initiated bonds that grew throughout the week.
Lashmet and Kavanaugh both said a dinner cooked by five Indian team members was one of their favorite memories from the week.
“It’s an unbelievable experience to be able meet people from different cultures while you’re all there, doing the same thing,” Lashmet said.
Now that he’s comfortable with other student volunteers, Lashmet said he looks forward to participating in local home builds through the IU chapter.
In addition to sending students to work on homes and volunteer at the ReStore in Monroe County, Habitat for Humanity at IU spends the entire year preparing for their next spring break trip.
Duong said the group uses the time to raise money, secure transportation and coordinate logistics.
The affiliate the students worked with has already asked the IU chapter to return next year, but Duong said he wishes he could stay year-round.
“I didn’t want to leave,” Duong said.
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