UM-D students trade traditional spring break for service with Habitat for Humanity

DEARBORN — A dozen University of Michigan-Dearborn students spent their spring break becoming power tools pros while making a meaningful impact in the region as part of an alternative spring break project earlier this month.

Rather than head for a warm and sunny vacation destination, the students traveled to Battle Creek for a week of service as Habitat for Humanity volunteers, where they learned the art of drywall while refurbishing the interior walls of homes.

The students who participated are Sakne Abass, Haydar Ali, Sarah Alsaden, Stacy Boone, Marzia Chowdhury, Manall Farhat, Jennifer Forrester, Hamzah Latif, Stephanie Nguyen, Sarah Qarana, Ashim Wadehra and Alexandra Walowicz.

“I learned so much about the intense process of building a home and the amazing commitment the people of the project expressed,” said Nguyen, a sophomore studying biology.

Although UM-D has participated in the United Way for Southeastern Michigan’s Alternative Spring Break in the past, including hosting its Detroit volunteers in the campus’s fieldhouse last year, students in this year’s program had a more bare bones experience. They paid their own travel expenses and cooked their own meals, giving them confidence in the kitchen as well as on the construction site.

“As a commuter campus, our students don’t get the opportunity to live away from home,” said Evan Finley, an AmeriCorps VISTA at UM-D who accompanied the students to Battle Creek as an advisor. “That’s one of the reasons why this was such a great experience for them. It broadens their horizons and offers them experiences they normally wouldn’t get. At first, some of the students were apprehensive about using power tools but by the end of the week, they were pros.”

In addition, the students got a chance to see that other communities outside of Detroit are affected by the economy’s downturn. “It’s a different community but they are still dealing with the same issues as the Detroit area,” Finley said.

Helping a community during an economic hardship and learning new skills are the top reasons why students chose to trade in their swim suits for tool belts this spring.

“The most important thing I got out of this program was the satisfaction of helping build a great house that a family will be able to live in some day,” said Forrester, a junior who is studying earth science while earning a secondary education teaching certificate. “It was great to see how different the house looked as we were leaving on the last day compared to the first day when we first got there.”
 Walowicz, a history sophomore, agreed and noted that the most memorable moment of the trip was “just seeing the finished product of our labor and how it would one day become part of someone’s home.”

The students also bonded with each other, making lasting friendships and connections in the community.

“Even though there were people with different backgrounds, we all got together and worked toward one goal and that was to help someone in building a house,” said Farhat, a junior studying human resources management and supply chain management.

For Walowicz, the relationships enhanced the weeklong experience. “I feel like I learned a lot from our site managers and also from the other people on the trip. We became a mini-family for that week and our compatibility as a group made everything fun, even the hard work.”