Extreme Makeover: Habitat Edition

Habitat for Humanity allows families in need to have homes of their own.Carlye Thornton | Lariat Photographer
Habitat for Humanity allows families in need to have homes of their own.
Carlye Thornton | Lariat Photo Editor
By Sara Katherine Johnson

Eight years ago in Richmond, a Habitat for Humanity chapter was erecting the frame of a structure soon to be someone’s house. It was Framing Day, as Habitat volunteers call it. Now, Richmond junior Allison Carrington is the president of Baylor Habitat for Humanity and still remembers the day of her first experience as a volunteer.

“Seeing all of it come together as someone’s home, I was able to feel a growing sense of responsibility for my community,” Carrington said.

At the time of her introduction to Habitat, Carrington was a junior high student volunteering to make up for a missed church lesson. Her senior year of high school, she joined her school’s club. Freshman year of college she found Baylor’s chapter during Late Night, and Carrington has acted as president since her sophomore year.

“Building alone isn’t going to build houses or raise awareness or end poverty,” Carrington said. “Habitat is contagious in that way. It spreads because you get excited when you start helping and seeing tangible results. You can’t help but tell more people.”

Baylor’s campus chapter is organized around the goal of servicing the Waco branch of Habitat, Carrington said. They do this through building, advocating, educating and fundraising. To help Carrington, Ashley Burk, coordinator of volunteers and special events for Waco’s Habitat chapter, serves as a liaison between the Baylor and Waco Habitat groups.

Burk joined Habitat after college when she was looking for a way to apply her double major in psychology and world religion. She said the mission of the organization, along with the group’s “hand up and not a hand out” philosophy, attracted her.

In practice, this means families that are chosen as eligible for a house have to put in “sweat equity.” Each family is required to perform 300 hours of physical work on their own home or another Habitat house being built. In addition, future homeowners go through what Burk called Homeowners College and numerous meetings with Habitat staff. The meetings are a form of support to make sure that the homeowners will be ready to take on the responsibility of owning a home.

“Our partner families all have different stories, but they all have a need,” Burk said.

Families are chosen based on a combination of their need, ability to pay for the home and willingness to partner with Habitat for Humanity. Sometimes this means that families can pay for their needs, but do not qualify for a traditional loan. In return, the homes are customizable by style and how many rooms are built.

The Waco branch builds eight houses a year, Burk said. It takes roughly four months on every house, with more than one house being built at a time. Burk said the contribution of Baylor’s chapter is invaluable because there are only two paid construction experts on staff. The rest of the labor comes from volunteers.

“It teaches you about professionalism,” Carrington said. “It also taught me you can’t judge based on anything except a person’s heart.”

Burk said a lot of people have the misconception that they cannot volunteer because they might be in the way. Both Burk and Carrington said that every one can help in some way. Before volunteering with Habitat, Carrington had never caulked walls before.
“Tracie Littrell helped me,” Carrington said, referring to the Waco Habitat’s new home construction manager. “She showed me how and left me to it. I caulked all day from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.”

Carrington said although she overdid the work, and it had to be redone, she learned a lesson. Now she sticks with paining concrete or nailing. Carrington said it can take time to find, but there is a role for everyone.

In addition to helping build at the construction sites, Baylor Habitat for Humanity members work in the Habitat store, ReStore, and help with stocking, unloading and running the half-price sale.

Habitat International is an organization with Christian values, Burk said.

“It’s a Christian organization because we want to be the hands and feet by eliminating poverty housing,” Burk said. “That doesn’t mean people have to come from a specific religion, or any religion, for us to help them though.”

Burk said that there is no discrimination of potential volunteers or partner families.

“We want it to be a transitional experience for volunteers,” Burk said. “But we’ll still take you as a volunteer even if you don’t have a servant’s heart. We’ll take you even if you just need the volunteer hours. Maybe you’ll still get something out of it.”

Carrington said she recommends the organization especially to students because it helps people learn about compassion.

“It’s easy to stay in the Baylor Bubble,” Carrington said. “For a lot of people in Waco, though, life isn’t easy. We should do more than just Steppin’ Out on one day.”