Tuesday, May 3, 2011

ELI's Habitat for Humanity Work Day

ELI staff, faculty, and student volunteers with future homeowner outside the Perry Hall site. (Photo credit: Rachel Krempasky, Habitat for Humanity)
On April 27th, a group of staff, faculty and a student from ELI spent the day volunteering with Habitat for Humanity of Northern Virginia at the Perry Hall site in Arlington. The group, organized by ELI Student Life, and led by ELI mathematics Professor Richard Semmler, spent the day caulking windows and outside walls in the 12 unit structure. “It was a wonderful experience!” said Carol Turner. “The work was fulfilling knowing that the cold air would not come through the cracks.”

The group broke for lunch and got to know Abraham Habteab, a future homeowner selected for a unit at Perry Hall. Abraham, originally from Eritrea, Africa, is a taxicab driver in D.C. He is the sole breadwinner for his wife and two small children (2 and 3 years old). They are currently living in a one bedroom apartment in Arlington and dreamed of the day when they could have more room; never did think that some day they might be able to own their own home. Abraham worked hard just to become one of the approximately 300 applicants eligible as a future homeowner. He made it through the cuts down to 20 and finally to being one of the very lucky 12 families who were selected. Now he has to put in 500 sweat equity hours helping to build his and the other families’ dream house. He donates what little extra time he has on his one day off to put in those needed hours. Abraham was grateful to the NOVA volunteers who contributed about 75 hours towards his 500 sweat equity hours. Abraham’s gratitude made the volunteers feel much pride.

Kristin Shriver (ELI Student Success Coach) noted, “This was a great hands on experience! It is rewarding to know that NOVA’s commitment to give back to the community, along with my hard work, is going to help someone’s dream come true. It was especially gratifying to work side-by-side with the future home owners all day.”

Bob Loser (ELI Instructional Designer) said, “I have admired Habitat for Humanity for a long time but I’m too shy to volunteer on my own so I’m happy that there was an opportunity like this. What I enjoyed the most was working with Abraham and getting to know Niraj (our student volunteer) and my fellow co-workers in a different environment. It was a great change of pace from our usual—working with our hands instead of only with our heads.”

Nantana Wongtanasirikul (ELI Instructional Designer) remarked “It was a thrilling experience to be part of such a wonderful group of people to help build a dream house. Although our accomplishments were few, every single contribution counts towards this big task.”
Student Niraj Khanal and Professor Reva Savkar. (Photo credit:
Nantana Wongtanasirikul)
Student volunteer Niraj Khanal appreciated the opportunity to learn about Habitat and get to know some of his professors and ELI staff. He noted, "It really was one of the productive days in my life for a good cause."

Professor Reva Savkar said “What we are doing is just a drop in the ocean but drop by drop is what makes up the ocean. We are getting so much more than what we are doing to help.”

The group also learned more about Professor Semmler’s work with Habitat for Humanity. For the past 16 years, Semmler has supported the organization both through his labor and through financial donations. He spends nearly every Saturday volunteering at Habitat sites and has donated a total of $270,750. He has also helped build 70 homes for 70 families. In fact, the news media have been intrigued by Semmler’s generosity because they haven’t been able to find another philanthropist who not only gives his money away but also donates his time working side by side with the people he helps.

Needless to say the experience was inspiring and rewarding for all who participated. Read more about the NOVA-ELI Work Day from the Habitat for Humanity of Northern VA blog.

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