Youth Leader Lali Has Things Covered

Youth Leader Lali Has Things Covered

Habitat for Humanity Service Builds Teamwork, Community

From Lali’s point of view, and with some minor exceptions, this year’s Habitat for Humanity trip didn’t feel that that different from the one in which she participated last year. But the people around her did notice something markedly different about the young Mercy Home resident on this year’s trip. What they saw clearly in Lali this year was a leader. 

Lali, along with seven other young people and six coworkers drove from our Walsh Girls Campus on Chicago’s far South Side to Winston-Salem, N.C., for a six-day excursion that began on July 30. 

Following the 11-hour drive, the team separated into groups with Lali’s assigned to work with plywood on roofs. Without hesitation, she hopped to the top of the structure and immediately got to work. 

“Just for her to go up there inspired me to go up there myself,” said Gloria Aguilera, a coordinator for Mercy Home’s after-school programs. “I was like, ‘Well, if she’s doing it, I might as well take my stuff up there.’”

Lali’s boldness and determination not only prompted others to start hammering away, it propelled them forward to complete the task at hand.  

“It was hot, there were moments where we wanted to quit and wanted to be done with this, but we honestly persevered,” Aguilera said.  “Lali was a great teammate in all the spaces, motivating everybody and empowering her peers and the staff members too.”

For many years, our young people have made a difference in the lives of others in need through a partnership with Habitat for Humanity. They’ve worked with families at home in Chicago, and have traveled to sites as far away as Ohio, Kentucky, Maine, North Carolina, and Georgia. And for a few years following the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, groups have taken several trips to the Gulf States to help build or repair housing damaged in the 2005 storm. The trips have become an annual summer tradition for Mercy Home’s young people and a chance to give back.

“We are always talking about service to others as a necessary and enriching experience for our youth,” said Walsh Campus Director Amy Schulz. “Service work is at the heart of what we do here at Mercy Home. I want them to see us volunteering and think about how they can continue to contribute to their community, their city, and their world.” 

“Lali was a great teammate in all the spaces, motivating everybody and empowering her peers and the staff members”

These trips also give youth like Lali the chance to gain a sense of accomplishment and  encourage teamwork. Lali came to Mercy Home in 2019. As one of the few veterans on the Habitat for Humanity trip, she encouraged others to take breaks at times if they needed it. 

“She would say you can go take a water break, I got you,” Aguilera said. “She’d hand me my water while I was on the roof. Just being an extra support there and just seeing that and how everybody came together as a community to support each other was amazing.”

Lali admitted that she noticed some differences between this trip and her last. While last year she worked mainly at one site, the group had the chance to try a few different tasks this year. During the day, the group worked on gardening, carpentry, picking up donated goods, and doing whatever else was needed in helping to build the houses. 

“This year, we had a smaller group, so it felt a little more intimate and more relaxed,” Lali said. “I felt like we had a good group of girls this year and everybody was eager to help and was on top of their game.” 

Just being an extra support there and just seeing that and how everybody came together as a community to support each other was amazing.

At night, the team stayed in a cabin full of bunk beds reserved for volunteers. Coworkers took turns making breakfast and a church group provided other meals for the girls. 

“It really felt like a Walsh Campus sleepover,” Aguilera said. “It was really cool to see. I made pancakes for them. It was very different from what program is usually like.”

Lali loved the cozy, camp-like accommodations and the relaxed atmosphere. “Some nights we would just be goofing off and all laughing in the bathroom,” Lali said. “Since we had such a little group, we didn’t have to share bunks, [and] we had the whole thing to ourselves. I like staying on the bottom [bunk] because I can make a little space for myself with the upper level and a little hideout.”

While the purpose of the trip was about contributing to the community, the group also had fun along the way. They went bowling, played arcade games, and attended a minor league baseball game where one of our kids caught a ball. 

“I hope that everybody has the opportunity to try this,” Aguilera said. “It was a really fun experience, and I really appreciated the youth’s hard work and also the staff members who are willing to donate their time to step away from their family and friends and their loved ones and have this unique experience.”

In addition to the support that Habitat for Humanity provides to our youth during these service opportunities, our friends at Walsh Construction help to prepare them through tutorials on safety and protective gear as well as the basics of using the power tools involved in their projects.

Lali recognizes all that she has been given while staying at Mercy Home, and it is what has inspired her to give back however she can. 

“It feels good that I’m in a place where I can offer my time and support to other people, families in need,” Lali said. “Living at Mercy Home, they’ve given me a lot. That’s all based on donors and volunteers and stuff and the youth care workers who choose to be here and give their all to this. It felt good to be able to do this too and it feels like I’m giving something back for getting so much.”

While our donors give our young people a roof over their heads and tools to build for the future, it’s fitting that they use these tools to build a roof over the heads of those in need both near and far.

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