Students build Habitat for Humanity house

by Kandace York

Country music wafted through the air between the sounds of circular saws, hammering and laughter. Students dropped their backpacks and bikes near a telephone pole, signed in at a registration table, and gathered near Jim Overmyer, site leader and lead builder. The smell of pine wood hung over the morning.

“Thank you for volunteering to help,” Overmyer told them. “We want to do two things today: we want to have fun and we want to accomplish something.”

About 50 feet away stood the foundation of a Habitat for Humanity house, which their work would transform into a finished house for a local family in need. The nonprofit organization calls volunteers “the heartbeat of Habitat” and relies heavily on donated materials and hours.

It took just a few minutes to outfit all the students with safety glasses, gloves and work pouches. Students wore orange name tags, while supervisors, or professional tradespeople, wore green. Together they trekked through the mud toward the house-to-be.

As he watched the group head toward the site, Overmyer said, “I volunteer with Habitat for Humanity as I can. I’ve worked on four houses over the last 15 years.”

He had only a minute to talk, because there were students to mentor and a house to build. Students worked alongside tradespeople as they unrolled blueprints and scraped mud off their shoes with sticks.

“We want to do two things today: we want to have fun and we want to accomplish something.”

Sarah Jurden, assistant director of AIMS, said the house links STEM skills to a hands-on project. “Everyone who’s working today volunteered for this,” she explained. “The first crew met at 8:45 this morning, at a time they didn’t have class. They wanted to do this.”

BGSU’s AIMS program is for under-represented minority or female students pursuing a bachelor’s degree in a STEM-related field or teacher education with a major in a STEM area. 

Besides being a remarkable experience, Jurden said, it matches the BGSU mission of a public university for public good. Later, the family who receives the house will contribute their own “sweat equity,” but this foundation work is something the AIMS students will always remember.

Raven Robinson, a sophomore majoring in biology, was nailing planks nearby. “I like volunteering overall, and this seemed like a good opportunity,” she said on a short break. “I’ve always wanted to help with Habitat for Humanity.”

Sidney Bailey, a freshman majoring in environmental science, said she signed up for the project as soon as she heard about it. Although her tasks might seem mundane – moving materials and lining up planks – it all contributed to a greater good. “I’m from the Dayton area, but one day I’ll bring my kids back here to see this. I can’t wait for my mom to see it when she comes up.” Bailey said she liked the hands-on aspect of the project, rather than fundraising or donating money.

The day’s work was familiar to Amber Hagey, a freshman majoring in construction management. “I knew we were working on floor joists,” she said. “In my junior and senior year of high school, we learned about all the trades, and my dad sets tile, so I’ve grown up with this and I just really like it.” 

Being able to put her skills to work helping a family in need made the work even better, Hagey said. “This is the first time I’ve been involved with something like this, and it’s pretty cool.”