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Partner Perspectives: ISU and IWU students build homes with Habitat

Students pose with a Habitat for Humanity family near the end of their 2018-2019 home build.

Students pose with a Habitat for Humanity family near the end of their 2018–2019 home build.

Partner Perspectives are written by members of the Community Consulting Board through the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning. These articles provide examples of partnerships, best practices, and other insights from the viewpoint of Illinois State University’s community partners.

By Lindsey Jarboe, volunteer coordinator at Habitat for Humanity of McLean County

Lindsey Jarboe

Lindsey Jarboe

At Habitat for Humanity of McLean County, we seek to put God’s love into action by building strength, stability, self-reliance, and shelter. Habitat for Humanity International’s vision is to achieve a world where everyone has a decent, affordable, and safe place to call home. Annually, we build six homes for deserving families. One of those six homes we build a year is sponsored financially and constructed by our local college students.

We are blessed that Illinois State University and Illinois Wesleyan University (IWU) both have registered student organizations on campus that are dedicated to Habitat’s mission. Students from both universities partner to raise a goal of $40,000 per home.

They have several fundraisers throughout the year. Most notable is Trick or Treat for Change, where students “trick or treat” community homes and ask for monetary change instead of candy. In 2017, the students raised $11,338.32 from this event alone! They almost doubled this event’s total by applying and meeting the requirements for a $10,000 matching grant from State Farm. All of this money is directly applied to the cost of the home, thus lowering the cost for the Partner Family who purchases it from us with a 25 year, no interest mortgage.

Every Saturday from September to May, a group of Illinois State students from all sorts of recruited registered student organizations (RSOs) and other organizations join some IWU students on our sites constructing the home. On average, we have about 10 students arrive on a weekly build day ready to help construct one of our homes. For the 2017–2018 school year, we had 133 student volunteers come to our build sites and learn a new skill. We find that the students are some of our best volunteer crews, as they come prepared to learn and will adapt to the usually unfamiliar territory of a construction site.

We do utilize groups that do not come directly through the Illinois State RSO at other build sites, our ReStore, and for our repair program. This big volunteer boost in the fall lets our community crews take a breather after a long summer of building. It is a blessing to have a “second wind” of students to keep progress going.

Student leaders from Illinois State’s student chapter of Habitat for Humanity

From time to time, the sheer number of students wanting to get involved can be overwhelming. However, we strategically made several avenues for intake of groups. Group of 30? Great! Come help us process donations and organize our ReStore. Group of 10? The build sites will be a good fit for you! Our affiliate reduced the number of volunteers we take on a Saturday build site a few years ago from 15 to 10. We have found that this made site management not only safer, but easier on our volunteer project directors. It also allowed for each volunteer to be more hands on and feel as if they actually made a tangible difference. Finding this balance of keeping the volunteers happy while simultaneously keeping our affiliate’s needs in mind really maximized the benefit of our volunteers.

Habitat for Humanity International completed a study that found that children of non-renters of the same age, income, race, etc. are 116 percent more likely to graduate from college than renters. They are also 25 percent more likely to graduate from high school and have 9 percent higher math scores and 7 percent higher reading scores. Our student volunteers are truly giving back to the next generation of college students and members of our community.

To date, they have helped 53 children and 36 adults have a door to lock, a roof that doesn’t leak, an affordable house payment, a sense of pride, and place to call home. Our local campus chapter is the envy of many other affiliates for its longevity, fundraising power and commitment. Without the universities’ help, 25 families in our area would still be without adequate housing. We are forever grateful for their commitment to engaging with our community.