UNDERGRADUATE ADMISSIONS at WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY in ST. LOUIS

Service Spotlight: Habitat for Humanity

This Spring Break, I took a leap of faith and signed up for a trip to Tahlequah, Oklahoma, despite the fact that I knew only one other person committed to the journey.

Chances are, most of you have never heard of Tahlequah, let alone figured out how to pronounce it (don’t worry, before this trip I hadn’t either), so a bit about the town:

1. Tahlequah is the capital of the Cherokee Nation. And yes, the Cherokee Nation is a nation.

2. Tahlequah marks the end of the Trail of Tears.

3. Habitat for Humanity has been building houses in the area since 1990.

After a six hour-long road trip, we rolled into the parking lot of the church where we would be staying for the week. The next morning, we set off for the worksite, where we met our supervisor, Richard. A perpetual drizzle ensured that I, the underdressed and underprepared teenager, would shiver for the full work day.

Though the first two days were less than stellar in terms of weather, OK did a 360 overnight and we woke up to 60s and sunny for much of the remaining week. Each morning, we drove up to the worksite, chatted with Richard, and broke into groups to work on a new tool shed or the new house’s foundation. Each day was its own adventure: I overcame my fear of nail guns, helped pour cement, and learned a lot about the area in which we were working (it’s beautiful, by the way).

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For those who have never done Habitat for Humanity or a similar service project, I will say this: spending some time off the grid and on a construction site is an experience unlike any other. I love it. I really do. These trips teach you to be a willing student, a team player, a pragmatist, and a resilient worker. They show you that service is not just the tangible acts—building a house, stocking shelves at a food pantry. It is sitting down and having a conversation with a soup kitchen’s guests or sharing stories and sandwiches with a homeowner. It is pouring soul and love into everything you do; it is being all there, all the time. In teaching that, Habitat does an excellent job.

I wasn’t ready to leave when the end of the week came around. Goodbyes are never fun, and long road trips in dirty cars even less so. But we are lucky to have stayed in touch with Richard, who has been sending us periodic updates on the house. And since then, I have stayed quite involved with Habitat, serving as the executive board’s chair of education and advocacy. Though I have been involved for only a short while, I cannot wait to see what the coming semester brings for the group.

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Richard (foreground, white helmet) is big on selfies.