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RAs help Habitat for Humanity
New resident assistants help Habitat for Humanity build a new home in Sussex County.

New RAs Partner With Habitat for Humanity

Photo by Dillon Kimmel

New Resident Assistants help build homes while engaging in Delaware communities

Student staff in Residence Life & Housing (RLH) got more than just a crash course in home building during the fall semester. Over the course of four Saturdays in October and November, 115 Resident Assistants (RAs) spent nearly 700 total hours with Habitat for Humanity in Sussex County as part of their participation in a service-learning course, UNIV320*.

“I think that practical work is extremely undervalued, so going out myself and really doing something hands on, like building a house, makes me far more appreciative of the things we often take for granted,” said Dante Calise, a first-year RA.

From Oct. 7 to Nov. 4, the RAs spent three of the Saturdays together working on a house in Milton, DE. To date, it has been exclusively built at the hands of UD students working alongside Habitat staff and their regular volunteers.

As part of the project, RAs put up the initial framing for the house, hung all the siding and exterior of the home, and began interior work.

On Nov. 11, the fourth and final trip, the RAs traveled to Laurel, DE to work on the interior of another home. While learning new home construction, students had the chance to serve alongside members of a home recipient’s family, who joined them on the build day.

“We are humbled by the growing partnership with the University of Delaware,” said Barbara Ward, Programs Director for Sussex County Habitat for Humanity.  “We were particularly excited to work with the Residence Life & Housing students this semester. From the outset, we believed that their concern for building community on campus and throughout the state made them ideal Habitat partners.

“Over their four build days, the RAs worked with passion and enthusiasm, completing construction tasks well beyond our expectations. Because of their team effort, one of our houses will be completed nearly two months ahead of schedule, putting one family that much closer to realizing their dream of home ownership.”

In partnership with UD’s Community Engagement Initiative, RLH was able to identify Habitat for Humanity as an agency that had both a need for volunteers, and the capacity to support the large number of service hours Resident Assistants wanted to contribute.

“RAs are among the most visible student leaders on campus. Service has been a component of the course for many years, but we saw a unique opportunity this year to more deeply connect them to the state where they reside,” said Dillon Kimmel, Assistant Director of RLH and trip coordinator.

As part of course content, staff from Habitat for Humanity and UD’s Community Engagement Initiative served as guest speakers. They informed students about the main causes of poverty in Sussex County, how organizations like Habitat for Humanity help meet the needs of the community, and how students can more deeply engage with the local community.

“As a result of what they’ve learned from the experience, we’ve challenged the RAs to consider ways they can influence other students to engage more deeply with their local communities,” Kimmel continued.

Emily Griffith, a first-year RA, said, “From an RA’s perspective, it’s practicing what you preach about the meaning of community. We can’t stress how important community in the residence halls is if we, as RAs, are not active citizens of the community around us.”

Kathleen Kerr, Associate Vice President for Student Life and Executive Director of Residence Life and Housing, joined the RAs to work with Habitat on the UD built home.

She noted that, “when working on-site with an organization such as Habitat for Humanity, not only do RAs learn about construction, but also about how their efforts can make a direct difference in the lives of those in need, who are a part of our community here in Delaware.”

Visit Sussex County Habitat for Humanity’s website to learn how to volunteer and view their mission statement, efforts and impact on the Delaware community.

*UNIV 320 serves as an opportunity for first-year Resident Assistants to reflect on their roles as leaders. The one-credit class has historically met the University’s Discovery Learning Experience (DLE) requirement by offering students a hands-on opportunity to apply leadership principles to service.  


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