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The words “spring break” often conjure images of young people lazing on a sunny beach, or perhaps headed home for a relaxing week with family. Not so for 20 Lycoming College students, who instead headed to Lucedale, Miss., to participate in the Habitat for Humanity Collegiate Challenge.
Habitat for Humanity partners with people all over the world to help them build or improve a place they can call home. Homeowners, who pay an affordable and interest-free mortgage, build right alongside volunteers. Lycoming College has participated in the Collegiate Challenge for 26 years, and the College’s Habitat chapter regularly helps with local builds, as well as builds across the country.
Months before journeying to Mississippi, criminology major Destiny-Ann Schott ’20, treasurer and trip coordinator, worked to identify a destination for spring break. Schott was first introduced to Habitat as a high school student through her church in Abingdon, Md. She quickly developed a love of volunteering. “I learn new things with every build,” said Schott. “This time we mostly hung vinyl siding for the house, and we learned a whole lot about soffits!”
At the build in Mississippi, the students worked on a house for a disabled veteran who had been living in a shed without running water or sewer services. “It was cool to be a part of that,” said Andrew Shelly ’18, president of the College’s Habitat chapter. A biology major hailing from Cochranville, Pa., Shelly has participated in the Collegiate Challenge during all four of his years at Lycoming.
“Habitat has given me a sense of volunteerism and community,” he said. “It was the first club I joined as a freshman at Lycoming College, and it holds an awesome place in my heart. It also showed me how to get involved on campus.” Although he never participated before attending Lycoming College, Shelly plans to continue his involvement in Habitat after he graduates from the College in May.
Although the College chapter has a core group of members that meet and work to raise awareness, as well as critical funds needed to provide suitable housing for those in need, participation is open to the entire campus. Participants are required to pay a small fee, while the Lycoming College Student Senate funds the majority of trip expenses.
Psychology major Kaitlin Clark ’18, from Sunbury, Pa., has been involved with Habitat for the entire four years she’s been at the College. Reflecting back on her experiences, she treasures the memories, as well as the relationships she has made. “Like many others I'm not doing it for myself or to look good on a paper, I do it to sincerely help others, especially those who can't totally help themselves, such as the veteran for whom we were building the house. While his wife can help, he isn't able to, so I volunteer my body and strength to do so,” said Clark. “Habitat is a hand up, not a hand out. I love that model. They don't just want to give you something and say ‘see ya later.’ They work with the homeowners to build responsibility, self-efficiency, independence, safety, and skills that will help improve their lives far beyond a house to live in.”
But it’s not just students who travelled to Lucedale; several advisers accompanied the students, driving vans, and providing mentorship and spiritual guidance throughout the journey. “They lead us in reflection, and the students look up to each of them in various ways,” said Shelly.
Jeff LeCrone, director of spiritual life at Lycoming College, has served as adviser for the Habitat spring break trips since he began at Lycoming. “I have greatly enjoyed all 11 trips I’ve been on. Each group is different with its own dynamic, which makes going on the trips lots of fun,” said LeCrone. “Most importantly, Habitat has introduced me to some really great people, from the staff and volunteers to the homeowners.”
Annie Spencer ’06, chemistry lab manager at Lycoming, participated in Collegiate Challenge Spring Break trips as a student, and enjoys her role as an adviser on the trips now. Spencer, who now serves on the Board of Directors for Greater Lycoming Habitat for Humanity and as the Family Services Chairperson, has done international Global Village trips with Habitat to El Salvador and Guatemala, and will lead another Global Village trip to Johns Island, SC this August. “I’ve had the opportunity to see first-hand the conditions that people are living in not only in developing countries, but right here in the United States. If there is any way that I can even be a small part of helping a family have a decent place to sleep at night, I want to be a part of it,” she said. “I believe that it is our responsibility to help the communities in which we live. My involvement with Habitat has changed the way I live my life for the better.”
Rounding out the crew from Lycoming was Katherine Wrona of Mobile, Ala., who drove to Lucedale for a day to help with the build. Wrona, a 2014 alumna of Lycoming, was a member of the College’s Habitat chapter during her time on campus.
Despite the daily hard work, the group did manage to find time for a few fun spring break activities, including a side trip to nearby New Orleans, a visit to an alligator farm, and a ride on an airboat. One unexpected perk to participating in this year’s spring break build was the opportunity to learn about different cultures. “Things are slower in the south,” commented Schott. “And the food the volunteers prepared for us was delicious. Every day is like Thanksgiving dinner!”
Participants in Lycoming College’s Habitat for Humanity 2018 Collegiate Challenge included the following students:
Melizabeth Abundis ’21 (Austin, Texas)
Dominick Berardelli ’21 (Montoursville, Pa.)
Sergei Cole ’20 (Montgomery, Pa.)
Kaitlin Clark ’18 (Sunbury, Pa.)
Guillermo Estrada ’20 (Houston, Texas)
Marlen Gallegos ’21 (Houston, Texas)
Brittany Halblieb ’21 (Hummelstown, Pa.)
Olivia Heckroth ’19 (Oakdale, Pa.)
Kathryn Henry ’19 (New Windsor, N.Y.)
Kaitlyn Lovette ’21 (Lewistown, Pa.)
Natalia Puga ’19 (Houston, Texas)
Ericka Reese ’20 (Memphis, Tenn.)
Kelly Rogawski ’19 (Bayville, N.J.)
Bryyan Ruiz ’20 (Ontario, Calif.)
Ansharah Saib ’21 (Phoenix, Mauritius)
Destiny-Ann Schott ’20 (Abingdon, Md.)
Andrew Shelly ’18 (Cochranville, Pa.)
Evelyn Torres ’20 (Round Lake, Il.)
Sheila Whitman ’21 (Lake Ariel, Pa.)
Lyna Worles ’20 (Memphis, Tenn.)
Jeff LeCrone, Director of Spiritual Life and Community Service, Lycoming College
Annie Spencer ’06, Chemistry Lab Manager, Lycoming College
Casey Spencer ’05, Assistant Pastor, Faith Wesleyan Church