My very first experience at RPI was with Habitat for Humanity. In the fall of 2007, I participated in the Habitat overnight trip for Navigating Rensselaer & Beyond, and it was everything I hoped for. I signed up because I always had an interest in community service, and this seemed like a good fit (not to mention the fact that I was looking for a cool way to meet some other freshmen). It did end up being a cool way to meet people, but I also found much more.
During our work that weekend, I forged many friendships with the volunteers from around Troy, the RPI students who were helping out, and some of the people who run Rensselaer County Habitat for Humanity. Most importantly, I met the homeowner, Pam. The home was being built for her and her family, and she was there just about every day to put in her required hours of “sweat equity” and then some. It was a deeply personal experience to meet her and her children, because I knew that the work I was doing was physically changing their lives for the better.
I volunteered all year long on Saturdays (when I could), and at the end of the year I got to see the house officially dedicated to Pam and her family. I knew that from then on out, her family was going to have their own decent home, at an affordable price, and that I had made a difference. At that moment, Habitat went from being a great charity that you hear about on television to being a real group of people who work together to improve the lives of others in their community.
I’ve been asked to write this article to explain to you why you might want to participate in Habitat. To me, one of the most valuable aspects of Habitat is that you can have the exact same experience that I did: you can change someone’s life. I don’t mean that in the abstract sense, that your work will inspire others or that you’re adding to the amount of good deeds in the world. No, I mean that you will be housing a hard-working member of this community. You’ll give them a decent roof to live under, and you’ll provide their children with a leg-up so that they can strive towards their dreams.
So how does it work? You can sign up for the build list by sending an e-mail to the president, Kyle Mattson, at firstname.lastname@example.org. After that, you will get weekly e-mails about our Saturday builds, for which you can sign up online. There’s no commitment; you come whenever your schedule allows. Then you show up and drive over to the site (no car required—we carpool from the Rensselaer Union), where you will be instructed on the work you’ll be doing for the day (assembling walls, attaching siding, etc.).
If you’re like me, you may not have Saturdays free all the time. In that case, you can get involved with our Steering Committee, which works on events such as the Home Run for Habitat, printing a newsletter, fund-raising, and raising awareness about Habitat for Humanity across campus. It makes just as much difference in the community, and it’s a great way to get involved with event-planning and leadership on campus.
Both of these opportunities have the potential to be life-changing. To you, it might seem like you’re giving up an hour or two of rest on a Saturday morning, but to the Habitat homeowners, you’re giving them another chance at a decent life in this community, and that’s what really counts. So why not get involved, and “be the change you wish to see in the world!”