Students spend break in Florida, Habitat style

This weekend, 23 Carnegie Mellon students will head down south for spring break — to raise a house in Lee County, Fla., on behalf of Habitat for Humanity.

Habitat for Humanity is an international, nonprofit organization dedicated to building houses for low-income families, according to the group’s website.

“If you have the means, you can build a house for someone who doesn’t,” said Amanda Yue, a junior business major and spring break coordinator for Carnegie Mellon’s Habitat chapter. “It’s an amazing experience.”

Yue became enthusiastic about the group after traveling with Habitat members to the Gulf Coast to join in the post-Katrina rebuilding effort over last year’s spring break.

“When I went on the trip last year, I had an amazing experience,” she said. “I felt good knowing that I could build a house.”

The members of this year’s trip will be constructing and raising the frame of the house, which will accomplish about a third of the building process, Yue said.

“This year is special because a lot of people are going who haven’t gone before,” she said. “There are also a lot of international students who can bring the experience back to their own countries.”

Last Saturday, the group teamed up with Carnegie Mellon’s Lego Club to host a Lego-building contest in order to raise money for the trip.

“Habitat for Humanity thought it would be a nice idea to have a building competition, since what we are doing is raising money to build,” said Nadia Bosan, a sophomore math and civil and environmental engineering major who organized the event. “Legos just seemed like an easy way for people not used to building real houses to get involved.”

Carnegie Mellon’s chapter is not the only habitat group that’s been active in the area. Last Wednesday, Pittsburgh’s Habitat for Humanity chapter dedicated a house in Duquesne. The house will be occupied by a single mother and her toddler son, according to a February 27 press release from Pittsburgh Habitat for Humanity.

While the Carnegie Mellon chapter didn’t help build this house, student representatives recently met with members of the Pittsburgh chapter to discuss getting involved in the construction of two more homes in Duquesne that will begin next month, said Maggie Withrow, the executive director of Pittsburgh Habitat for Humanity.

In addition, Withrow met with Carnegie Mellon’s Habitat chapter president, junior business major Yvonne Dang Kiat, and the club’s advisor, Shernell Smith, to discuss ways in which Carnegie Mellon could get involved with the Pittsburgh chapter other than construction. Two ideas were inviting architecture students to serve on the chapter’s construction committee, and having technology students provide design and tech support in the chapter’s office, Withrow said.

According to Yue, the Carnegie Mellon chapter has not yet participated in a build with Pittsburgh’s chapter; however, the university chapter attends about six Saturday workdays per semester with the Beaver County chapter.

Yue emphasized that participating in Habitat projects is a rewarding experience that opens one’s eyes to the plight of others right in their own neighborhood. She feels that the spring break trip is a chance to do something meaningful during a break traditionally reserved for self-indulgence.

She also added that news of the chapter is catching on.

“It’s word of mouth,” she said. “It just spreads.”