MIDDLEBURG – As snowstorms and cold temperatures make their way through the Northeastern U.S., 13 college students are enjoying better weather here working on a home with Clay County Habitat for …
MIDDLEBURG – As snowstorms and cold temperatures make their way through the Northeastern U.S., 13 college students are enjoying better weather here working on a home with Clay County Habitat for Humanity as part of the Collegiate Challenge alternative spring break initiative.
Through Collegiate Challenge, students from across the country are able to register their group with the program and pick the week when they will be on spring break. After the week is selected, students pick the affiliate they hope to be placed with from the Habitat for Humanity International website. This year Clay Habitat got two groups of students – 10 from Case Western Reserve University and three from Duke, which began as a five-person group but two weren’t able to make the trip.
“This is probably our busiest week,” said Construction Manager Ryan McIntyre. “We’ll get groups this size for a day but not for a full week.”
The home, located on Timothy Street in Middleburg, is a three-bedroom, two bath, which, when finished, will provide about 1,300 square feet of space for a single mother, who will be buying the home, and her two-year-old twins, a boy and a girl. The woman is currently holding down a full-time job while also taking a full course load as a full-time student.
The land was donated to Clay Habitat three years ago by a couple that currently lives in Atlanta. They had originally planned to build their own home on the site, but plans changed. After the donation, they only made one request of Habitat Executive Director Carolyn Edwards, that she call them when they picked a family to live on their former plot so that they could know who their land was going to. The building supplies were paid for as part of the statewide campaign by Publix Super Markets to provide $5.5 million for Habitat homes.
“Our goal at Habitat is to give a hand up, not a handout,” Edwards said. “We open up our hearts so that a family can have a nice place to live. We definitely could not do this without the help of volunteers and the help of our community.”
In addition to donations of land and supplies, Collegiate Challenge week brings even more donations from several local businesses, organizations and churches of food for the students who participate each year.
“The kids enjoy coming here because we treat them so well,” Edwards said.
This rings true with Case Western Project Manager Jon Healy, who is in Clay County for his second year in a row, after he spent last year’s spring break in Green Cove Springs tearing down a house that was sitting on a lot where Habitat planned to build.
“Coming down to Florida is nice, especially from Cleveland,” Healy said. “The people (last year) were amazing, everyone is just so nice; Southern hospitality at its finest. Why wouldn’t we come back?”
The students arrived over the weekend, and weren’t met with the warm sunny temperatures they had expected, Healy said that last year he was constantly sweating in the 80-degree temperatures and scorching sunshine – this year he decided to pack for the conditions.
“This year I only brought shorts and long sleeve t-shirts,” Healy said as he stood by a fire at the edge of the property. He wasn’t too disappointed though, as he had heard from people back in Cleveland that they were looking at an expected 24 inches of snow this week.
The students will work through Friday on the Middleburg home, which is currently about six weeks into the build, and six weeks from completion, according to Edwards. Through the weeklong work experience, students are providing much more than volunteer service. They meet the family who will move into the home, and they learn skills through their work that they can take with them wherever they go.
“I’ve learned a lot already and it’s only been one-and-a-half days,” said Helen Yu, a student from Duke. “It’s very empowering as a girl to know I’m able to do this type of work.”