Kenyon students offer a hand up through Habitat for Humanity

T he College's recently established chapter of Habitat for Humanity has an ambitious goal. "We'd like to raise enough money to build our own house, independent of the Knox County chapter with which we've been working," says Michael J. Klein '99 of Gambier, president of the new group.

Klein realizes that raising the $6,000 to $8,000 needed to initiate a building project is daunting enough. Raising the $30,000 or so needed to complete the project will be a real stretch. But he likes to aim high. "If you set your sights too high and miss, it isn't really a problem," Klein says. "But if you set your sights too low, you'll never know what you could have accomplished."

Getting a project underway is the most important step. Once people see the building taking shape, they're inspired to donate both money and materials. "There's a kind of snowball effect," he says. "Each step completed is the motivation for beginning the next."

Klein is no stranger to the building process. He has been involved in the Knox County chapter of Habitat for Humanity International for as long as there has been a chapter--about eight years. His initial interest was sparked by his mother, S. Joyce Klein, one of the early members of the organization and its current vice president. Once Michael Klein, whose father is Associate Professor of English William F. Klein, enrolled at Kenyon, he shifted his building experience to the more commercial enterprise of earning money for his college expenses, working mainly as a subcontractor to local construction companies. But, about two years ago, after witnessing a growing interest in Habitat activities among the students at the College, Klein, along with fellow student Sheldon A. Kimber '00 of Delaware, Ohio, decided to found a Kenyon chapter.

Habitat for Humanity International is a nonprofit, ecumenical Christian organization dedicated to eliminating poverty housing worldwide. Habitat brings together people with resources and people in need to build simple, decent, affordable houses, which are then sold to those in need at no profit through no-interest loans. Founded in 1976 by Linda and Millard Fuller, Habitat for Humanity has built more than seventy thousand houses, providing shelter for more than three hundred fifty thousand people worldwide. It has affiliates in every state of the union and in sixty other countries around the world.

Campus chapters are unincorporated, student-run organizations that perform three main functions: building or rehabilitating houses in partnership with Habitat affiliates and homeowners, educating campus and local communities about affordable housing issues and the work of Habitat for Humanity, and raising funds for the work of Habitat. Participation in campus chapters enables students to put their desire to help others into action and to build friendships with people sharing a common goal. Students also learn valuable skills in areas such as carpentry, electrical installation, plumbing, and finish work.

"Last year, we did a `blitz build' in which approximately one hundred fifty students participated," says Klein. "It was clear from that that there was sufficient support to sustain a chapter." A blitz build is an event during which a house is completely framed and put under roof within two twelve-hour days. The ability to accomplish such a formidable task depends entirely on meticulous advance planning. Since no skills are required of volunteers prior to participating, each work group must be led by an experienced tradesman who can supervise the team, making sure people are working effectively. All materials must be at the site and ready to go so that no one stands idle, waiting for something to arrive. Even lunch must be orchestrated. "Once you get everyone organized and moving in the same direction, it's an awesome sight to watch," says Klein.

A couple of months ago, Mount Vernon's Interchurch Social Services provided the Kenyon chapter with its first independent project. The group is building an addition to a trailer for a single mother and her six children. The thirty-eight-foot-by-twelve-foot structure, built from plans drawn up by Klein, will include a bedroom and bath and well as additional communal living space for the family.

"Habitat for Humanity is not about charity," says Klein. "It's a true partnership between the builders of the house and the ultimate owners of the house. Each family must put in at least five hundred hours of `sweat equity' as part of their loan agreement." It's this sense of partnership that provides the largest share of satisfaction to the student volunteers, he says.

Members of the College's Habitat chapter hope interested alumni and parents will support their efforts, especially if they are already contributors to Habitat International. "Beyond the tremendous satisfaction each of us gets from working on these houses is the additional benefit to Kenyon that comes from being perceived as a good citizen within the Knox County community," says Klein. "We are seeking partners as we provide a hand up to our neighbors."

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