Every little bit counts

My experience with Habitat for Humanity

Ethan Friedman

During February break this year, I traveled to Raleigh, North Carolina to assist in home construction with Habitat for Humanity.

Before the week in Raleigh, it was clear to me that the trip’s main goal was to aid in providing affordable housing for families of the Raleigh-Durham area. However, it was only after the experience when I realized the trip had many benefits. The week spent in Raleigh with Habitat helped me to develop a deeper sense of appreciation for things that I barely paid attention to, or completely ignored prior to my travel. My hope, after writing this article, is that the description of the events helps readers achieve a greater awareness in their own lives.

        The trip to Raleigh was planned and managed by North Shore Teen Initiative (NSTI) located at the Jewish Community Center in Marblehead. Initially, I found out about the trip through an e-mail. While I was reluctant to leave home during vacation week, I reviewed the benefits and realized the opportunity before me; I signed on.

        Suitcase in hand, I arrived at the airport and began my journey. I joined a group of twenty other teens from the Boston area. After a short flight, we arrived in Raleigh.  Our work would start the next day, but first we used the night to get to know each other. On Tuesday morning, my alarm went off at 6:30 A.M. and shortly thereafter the work began. After a quick breakfast, our group piled into two vans and drove to the work site. We were greeted by Habitat representatives and workers, who explained the physical labor that we would be doing. The first two days would be spent framing and building exterior walls at a housing development, which will eventually contain eleven units. The third day would involve construction of wooden exterior walls from scratch, also known as a “wall build” at another location and moving donated construction materials. The final day would include painting and assisting with the final touches on another house at a different sight. At the time I was more focused on the job then the greater good behind the work.  

        I didn’t begin to realize the deeper meaning of the trip until after a conversation I had with a Habitat worker on the final day of the job. The worker told me about how Habitat of Wake County has put up almost six hundred homes since the organization’s founding in 1985. However, he informed me about the huge number of families who are still living pay-check to pay-check and are barely making it. At that moment, I tried to remove myself from the construction activity, and think about what the people who are working multiple jobs and still hardly able to pay rent are going through. This conversation helped me to understand that the small amount of progress we made on each house did actually make a difference to one family. In addition to a roof and four walls, each house provides a family with experiences, moments, and memories, similar to those I was reluctant to leave behind. I was not the only one to have a powerful transformation in thinking: “I realized that there are volunteers who come out every single day to give their time and effort all for the greater good” said Rachel Ellis. “It made me realize that my four days of work could not be as hard as the work that some of the volunteers put in.”

        The NSTI trip to Raleigh has been going on for seven years. It has become a very significant experience in the lives of the teens and staff members as well as a sort of tradition “My brother went on the trip multiple times before me and this year was my third year,” said Mike Ballin. The work we did in Raleigh acts as an inspiration for the future, “On this trip I feel I worked harder and got more done compared to past Habitat trips I went on” said Sarah Feinstein, “The fact that I’ve gotten better doing the work makes me feel more confident and makes me want to go on more trips.”

In conclusion, it seems there are multiple lessons one can take away from a Habitat trip.  One can build, learn, listen, engage, and understand the value of a home, service, and the fact that while the task at hand is great, each home makes a difference for at least one family, more if you include the participants.  It’s all about how you find your appreciation.  I found mine and I encourage others to do the same.