Spring Break — it’s what every student looks forward to from the moment the spring semester begins. Just three more papers until relaxing on a beach in Daytona. Just two exams until hitting the slopes in Colorado. Just one more class until sleeping in for a week.
One group of students, however, anxiously awaited their Spring Break for a whole different reason. Students with the University of Toledo’s chapter of Habitat for Humanity spent their break volunteering in Dade City, Fla.
“Habitat means a lot to me,” said Shannon Sfero, fourth-year nursing major and co-president of Habitat for Humanity. “It means giving less fortunate people the chance to feel normal, the opportunity to raise a family in a stable environment and it gives them hope for the future. Habitat for Humanity doesn’t just build houses — we help families get their lives back and give them hope when nothing else in their life seems to be going right.”
Sfero says she was instantly hooked with Habitat when she was a freshman searching for an organization to join. She participated in last year’s Habitat trip to Clearwater, Fla., and her enjoyment of the trip prompted her to volunteer again.
“I went on the Spring Break trip last year, because I was actually in charge of setting it up and I had an amazing time and met amazing people,” Sfero said. “There is nothing better than meeting the family you built the home for and seeing that look of their face. A look like that is absolutely priceless.”
Similarly to Sfero, Jennifer Leis enjoyed her trip with Habitat last year and says her experiences last time convinced her to return. A third-year double major in accounting and finance, Leis said she joined Habitat for the opportunities to volunteer in the Toledo area and in places where their help is needed.
“To me, Habitat is more than an organization on campus, it’s a way to give back to those in need,” said Jennifer Leis, a third-year double major in accounting and finance. “Habitat’s vision is ‘a world where everyone has a decent place to live.’ I want to help restore a sense of hope and community in people’s lives.”
This year’s crew consisted of nine UT students, from all different majors and backgrounds. The group worked at a local ReStore for two days of their trip. The store, which provides the main source of income for Habitat, sells gently used furniture, appliances, clothes and other miscellaneous goods. The volunteers spent the rest of their time in Florida painting the inside of a house, building a deck and helping to construct the framework of another house.
“Our group actually worked together to raise the front wall of the house that we were working on,” Leis said. “I personally cut a lot of the wood that was needed to construct the framework of the house. Through this opportunity, strangers were turned into friends and lumber and nails were turned into a home.”
Founded in 1976 by Millard and Linda Fuller, Habitat for Humanity has helped 6.8 million people find strength, stability and independence through safe, decent and affordable shelter, according to their website.
“Habitat is a way for me to give hope to the community,” said Alec Weiker, a fourth-year chemistry major and the organizer of this year’s trip. “I know it sounds cheesy, but seriously, when we participate in making food for homeless citizens or building homes for those who truly wish for a fresh start, we are potentially giving hope and second chances.”
During his stay in Florida, Weiker listened as one of the volunteers shared some words of wisdom that he said resonated with him.
“Last week, I learned a saying: ‘Habitat is not a handout; it’s a hand up,’” Weiker said, “and I think that sums it up perfectly.”
Meeting the families that Habitat for Humanity helps gave Weiker insight into the power of his actions. He said he hopes his peers on the trip learned the same lesson.
“That kind of insight is what changed me, and I hoped to give new perspective to my peers as well,” Weiker said. “My greatest success was simply giving them the opportunity and seeing them grow first-hand.”
Brian Hoffman, a fourth-year pharmacy major, said he joined Habitat to “to make a difference and helped those who aren’t as fortunate as myself.”
“I believe it is a judgment-free organization of people coming together to promote one cause,” Hoffman said. “Also, I thought it would be a great experience rather than simply working all break so it let me branch out and get out of my comfort zone a bit.”
Volunteers with Habitat for Humanity experience similar emotions when helping these families and as these UT students found out, helping others allows for growth as a person.
“Habitat is a way to not only help others but to also better myself,” said Nicole Albright, a fifth-year majoring in biochemistry. “Knowing I am able to do a task, whether it is simple or takes time, I know I am helping someone in need. By helping someone, I am also able to give them a new start.”
Joining Habitat and volunteering on trips such as this one has allowed her to be the kind of person she wants to become. That person that always puts others before herself.
“I was happy to see students from Habitat for Humanity Toledo chapter simply take time out of our own Spring Break and put in hard work just to help others less fortunate,” Albright said. “We were able to grow as a small group and get the job done.”