Habitat Trip Builds Confidence and Saves Lives
With rolling hills and trees stretching endlessly toward the sky, our kids’ view from the car window stood in stark contrast with Chicago’s urban skyline. Every mile traveled south along the interstate revealed more unfamiliar landscape.
Twelve of our young women and six coworkers were headed for Winston-Salem, North Carolina, for a week-long service trip with Habitat for Humanity. Despite some initial anxiety, as well as rain that flooded the highway and delayed the trip, our girls bravely continued their journey.
“Some of our youth had never left Illinois before,” said Gewanda Monroe, a program manager who was among our coworkers on the trip. “The experience gave our girls the confidence to know that stepping out of your comfort zone can be exciting.”
Since 2015, Mercy Home has partnered with Habitat for Humanity to immerse our kids in the mission of giving back. Habitat has become a friend of our Home and welcomes our kids back to work on a service project each summer. Gewanda hopes that this life-changing experience helps our kids become agents of change for others with similar backgrounds.
I believe that as our kids are given opportunities, it’s important to give back. And I think that this trip helped them build a sense of gratitude.
This year, our girls spent hours each day remodeling homes for families affected by poverty or homelessness. Their service allowed the families to enjoy a stable and comfortable place to live. This parallels Mercy Home’s mission of providing our children with a safe environment, one that allows them a reprieve from the instability that may have marked their lives before coming to Mercy Home.
“A lot of times families who receive a Habitat home have been living with other family members or just in a really rundown apartment,” said Debbie Cesta, Habitat for Humanity’s Winston-Salem Corporate and Community Engagement Manager. “So they move into their Habitat home and it changes the outcome of their life.”
Debbie also stressed the impact that volunteering with Habitat has for volunteers who are willing to give their time.
“It’s a win-win all the way around for the young women that came down because of the experience that they had, the new stuff that they learned, and the people that they met on the build site,” she said.
So, while many young people across the country used their summer vacation for well-deserved rest and relaxation, our young women also worked tirelessly to make other’s lives better.
“There’s a tremendous benefit that coming out and volunteering has for the volunteers themselves,” Debbie said.
In addition, Habitat for Humanity’s mission to provide comfortable, affordable housing to underprivileged families relies on volunteers like our kids to accomplish their goal.
“Volunteers really are critical to our mission because without them we would not be able to do what we do. The cost of building a home would be too expensive if we worked with paid contractors,” Debbie said.
Our girls spent long hours laying new flooring, scaling walls to fix dilapidated roofs, and getting their hands taming the unruly landscape of many families’ homes. The area in Winston-Salem where our girls volunteered has historically experienced severe poverty with weathered houses and overall blight. This subjects its residents to a lack of resources that many of our girls could relate to from their own lives.
Still, Gewanda was proud to return to Winston-Salem and see improvements where the Mercy Home kids had worked on in the past.
“Some people in the area don’t have the funds to repair their homes,” Gewanda said. “But I definitely see a difference in the community since we were there last.”
Over the course of the trip, Gewanda noticed anxiety turn to empowerment. Many girls had never used power tools or worked on a remodeling project before. They were invigorated by the challenge of learning something new—especially as women are underrepresented in the construction field.
Before the trip, our young women learned some basic construction skills from our friends at Walsh Construction. They taught our kids how to work with power tools in a workshop prior to the trip, as they have before previous Habitat for Humanity trips.
“It was grueling work,” said Jocelyn, one of the young women who went on the trip. “But I never thought that I’d be able to build a house with my bare hands. It was a really cool experience.”
As the week progressed, our girls gained a great sense of confidence. By stepping out of their comfort zone, doing physical work, and building relationships with strangers, our young people benefited greatly, just as the families they served had benefited. They even built relationships with members of the Winston-Salem community who provided our kids with home-cooked dinners every evening.
Outside of working hours, the girls spent time getting to know each other better, and indulging in cool treats to combat the southern heat.
“My favorite memory of the trip was eating ice cream after a long work day,” said Lily, another young lady from Mercy Home.
Our girls look forward to another opportunity next summer to help others through Habitat for Humanity.
“I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything,” Jocelyn said.