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Archive for Saturday, August 11, 2007

Habitat for Humanity builds on solid foundation

August 11, 2007

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The electric saw buzzes, and sawdust flies into the air.

The person operating the powertool may not be a construction worker, but instead a member of KU's Habitat for Humanity Club, volunteering a Saturday to build a house.

"When I got to college, I noticed that there was a chapter on campus, and I decided to participate," KU senior Catherine Seiwert said. "It was easy to get involved in. There is more to it than just building."

The mission of the group includes advocating, educating, fundraising and building. At the beginning of the year the group recruits members during the club fair.

"I wanted to help the community here," senior Jessica Leiker said. "I had previously worked in my hometown, and I wanted to work here to provide affordable housing for the community of Lawrence."

The KU club works with the Lawrence chapter on their build dates and hold sat least one build date a month. Building each house costs about $75,000 depending on the size, and the families chosen must put in about 450 hours of "sweat equity" working on their own as well as other families' houses.

"The best part for me is the homeowners are able to help build their houses," senior Meredith Preble said. "This may be the first house that they've ever owned."

The families receive an interest-free mortgage house with a down payment of $1,000. It is affordable because it is sold to them at cost of materials with volunteer labor.

"We've had families come in and do testimonials about how much they appreciate it," Seiwert said. "Knowing that we've helped people get on their feet again" is what keeps her coming back since her freshman year. She enjoys building the best as well as seeing the happiness of the families.

"I'm big on the idea of help the people help themselves," Seiwert said. "It gives them a good start, but they still have to work for it."

KU Habitat for Humanity was able to sponsor a house, the Hawk House, by teaming up with the House that Greeks Built. Through many fundraising efforts, including a disc golf tournament, the students raised about half the cost of building the house.

"I've laid floors, put up walls, painted and done about everything you can think of," Leiker said. "Everyone gets to do everything, even students."

Habitat for Humanity also holds the Collegiate Challenge, which takes a group to help build houses in other cities. Two years ago the club went to Laredo, Texas. Junior Laura Mazur signed up for the trip after the first meeting that she attended.

"When I signed up, I knew two people out of 15," Mazur said. "I got to know all these people on campus. We instantly connected during the week of working together in a group situation, and we kind of made these instant friendships being at the build site."

In Laredo, the group helped build an addition to a house for a Mexican family. After working from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, the group was able to explore the city. A couple of members of the community saw KU Habitat on the news and thanked them in a Mexican restaurant.

"It was really neat," Mazur said. "They (the family) weren't that well-off. I come from an upper-class family in Kansas, and to see them, it made it more personable." Last year, the club went to Lake Charles, La., which had been destroyed by Hurricane Rita.

"It was pretty rewarding," Preble said. "We had a great group of 14 volunteers who were very dedicated and worked hard all throughout the week. The work that needs to be done down there is very immense. We could go back every year, and they'd still need help."

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