MSA dons toolbelts for latest initiative

Members of the U’s Habitat for Humanity chapter will repair low-income housing in Montevideo, Minn.

Raya Zimmerman

Haley Sundstrom and Kate Eloranta surveyed the weathered doors people donated and began stripping them of the frames and the knobs. Next, the doors were measured, priced and put back on display to be sold.

On the other side of the Habitat ReStore âÄî a warehouse where secondhand housing materials are refurnished and resold to profit Habitat for Humanity âÄî a long row of cabinets boasted the work of students, who were already moving on to another project.

Their work Saturday in New Brighton, Minn. was one of the many tasks student volunteers perform as part of the University of MinnesotaâÄôs Habitat for Humanity chapter.

The members have traveled across the country with their tools and experience, and now some will join with members of the Minnesota Student Association to help repair houses in a community close to home.

MSA voted Jan. 25 to launch their new service project, the Greater Minnesota Service Initiative, this spring. They have joined with the University and West Central MinnesotaâÄôs Habitat for Humanity to repair houses for low-income homeowners in Montevideo, Minn.

John Worden, director of facilities, transit and housing for MSA, said he devised the initiative last summer when his dadâÄôs house was on the cityâÄôs radar for failing to meet inspection criteria. Fortunately, his dad had the help of family and friends, but Worden said not many families in that area have the same resources.

The initiative will replace MSAâÄôs former service project, “Lend a Hand, Hear the Band.” MSA approved the $7,500 budget that will go toward five housing projects in Montevideo and will cover the expense of 10 University student volunteers this May or June.

The initiative will also incorporate Habitat for HumanityâÄôs “A Brush with Kindness” program, which provides volunteers who use donated materials to perform exterior maintenance for struggling homeowners.

Joline Havland, executive director for the Habitat for Humanity of West Central Minnesota, said along with giving back to and working with the community, their chapter will be able to establish a new partnership with the University.

The application process for prospective families will begin in April, and nominees will be chosen based on need, level of income and the type of project.

An inside look at some of the builders

The Greater Minnesota Service Initiative will be quite a turnaround from the usual winter and spring break trips to warm and sometimes tropical locations throughout the U.S.

“Collegiate Challenge,” a program run through Habitat for Humanity International, sends groups of students to 200 host affiliates throughout the U.S. year round.

This past winter break, the UniversityâÄôs chapter sent 45 students to New Orleans, La., Miami and Key West, Fla. Within 20 minutes of opening registration to just Key West, the spaces were filled.

“Students love to get involved,” Anna Eggen, president of the UniversityâÄôs chapter, said. “They like to have new experiences, go see how houses âĦ are built in other cities and get off campus and see the wider community and volunteer.”

Worden said the local initiative will be a chance for students to volunteer who were not able to get on the list for other trips. Not to mention it will be more affordable, as MSA will foot the bill.

Eggen said a large population of students who attend the University are from the Twin Cities area or are from larger cities, so the initiative will be a “wonderful opportunity to see a different way of living thatâÄôs closer to home in contrast to the urban surrounding theyâÄôre accustomed to.”

The UniversityâÄôs chapter funds all its trips by hosting events like the Habitat Benefit Concert and the Habitrot 5K and by working at the Habitat ReStore.

Allyssa Freeman, a junior and co-fundraising coordinator at SaturdayâÄôs shift at the ReStore, said volunteering in the community “brings awareness of the need people have for housing, especially for college students.”

Worden stressed the UniversityâÄôs ad campaign “Driven to Discover,” is present and possible in areas outside scientific achievement.

“It doesnâÄôt have to be just an academic or scientific philosophy. It can easily expand to helping people,” he said.