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Extended Learning Institute Volunteers With Habitat for Humanity

On April 27, a group of staff, faculty and a student from the Extended Learning Institute (ELI) spent the day volunteering with Habitat for Humanity of Northern Virginia at the Perry Hall site in Arlington, Va. The group, organized by ELI Student Life Specialist Bridget Downey and led by 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. Originally from Eritrea, Africa, Habteab is a taxicab driver in D.C., and the sole breadwinner for his wife and two small children, ages 2 and 3. They are currently living in a one bedroom apartment in Arlington and dreamed of the day they would have more room. They thought owning a home would be nearly impossible. Habteab 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 selected. Now he has to put in 500 sweat equity hours helping to build his and the other families’ dream homes. He donates the little extra time he has on his one day off to put in those needed hours. Habteab was grateful to the NOVA volunteers who contributed about 75 hours toward his 500 sweat equity hours. His gratitude made the volunteers feel much pride.

The impact of the experience is best reflected in ELI volunteers’ comments:

NOVA Blackboard Coordinator Michelle Gee said, “This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. It was very rewarding. It was especially great to see Abraham and give toward his sweat equity hours. I hope to bring my daughter back because it was such a good experience.”

As ELI Student Coach Kristin Shriver noted, “This was a great hands-on experience and it was rewarding knowing that NOVA’s contribution along with my hard work is going to help someone’s dream come true. It was extra rewarding working side-by-side with the future homeowners all day.”

ELI Instructional Designer Bob Loser further noted, “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.” 

ELI Instructional Designer Nantana Wongtanasirikul 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 toward this big task.”

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 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 to build 70 homes for 70 families. In fact, the news media have been intrigued by Semmler’s generosity because they have not 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 Habitat for Humanity work day at http://habitatnova.blogspot.com/2011/04/richard-semmler-donates-to-abwk-and.html

Northern Virginia Community College is the largest institution of higher education in the Commonwealth of Virginia and one of America's largest community colleges. NOVA enrolls more than 75,000 students at its six campuses in Alexandria, Annandale, Loudoun, Manassas, Springfield and Woodbridge, and through NOVA Online. For more information about NOVA and its programs or services, call 703-323-3000 or visit the College's Web site, www.nvcc.edu.