July 16, 2018 | ° F

Build-a-thon raises awareness, funds for homelessness in NJ

Photo by Charlie Melman |

Students participated in Rutgers University Habitat for Humanity Saturday to raise funds and awareness for homelessness in New Jersey.

On Saturday afternoon, participants of Rutgers’ Build-A-Thon came close to experiencing homelessness, by living in shacks they constructed.

Rutgers’ chapter of Habitat for Humanity organized a Build-A-Thon in the engineering quad on Busch campus to fundraise for a $100,000 home-building project, said Punit Arora, president of RU Habitat for Humanity.

“We’re trying to get the college thinking about what homelessness is like, realizing that someone … homeless is not far away,” said Arora, a School of Arts and Sciences senior. “There are 11,000 people right now in New Jersey who are homeless.”

Fifteen teams, each containing five people, gathered on Saturday to build small shacks that would serve as their homes for the next 24 hours. Team members were shown a template from which they could model their dwelling and allotted three hours to build.

“We think about third world countries, but we can help the people in New Jersey itself,” he said.

All five members of each team lived together in their structure overnight. University students and Habitat for Humanity staff members later chose the best-looking shack and the most spirited group.

Individual team members were responsible for the final building process. Some, such as the group representing Brett Hall, decided to get creative and engineered a mock pirate ship, complete with mast and sail.

Aaron Jaslove, a member of the shipbuilding crew, said the building process helped him get closer to the community.

“It’s ... [giving] a real feeling for what people have to go through every night, even though we are very well-off college students,” said Jaslove, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student.

Habitat works closely with Rutgers Residence Life to plan, coordinate and staff the Build-A-Thon, said Jacquelyn Wonsey, a Residence Life educator for B.E.S.T Hall.

“Residence Life co-sponsors this event with Habitat for Humanity, and we have been with them every step of the way in planning the event,” Wonsey said.

Each team must have raised $100 to participate in the Build-A-Thon, Wonsey said. Prizes were awarded for teams that raised the most money, and the winning team would be given the opportunity to participate in the building of an actual home in Piscataway.

 Two hours into the event, RU Habitat had raised $1,680, she said.

 The cost of building homes in New Jersey is among the highest in the nation, Arora said.

“$100,000 is the largest house sponsorship from a college in New Jersey,” he said. “The houses down south ... range from $50,000 to $70,000, maximum.”

Fundraising for RU Habitat for Humanity is a multi-year process because the price of construction is so high, Arora said. The organization began its latest project last September and has raised $42,000 to date.

“We should be on track to reach that $100,000 in two years — that was our goal,” he said. “We ended last May with $21,000, and in between May and October, we had another $21,000,”

After Hurricane Sandy, members of several Habitat for Humanity chapters were asked to spackle and place drywall in new homes, Arora said. RU Habitat made several trips after the end of the fall semester to do so.

Relief efforts are still ongoing, and members of Rutgers’ chapter will be able to help with framing, insulation and painting, he said.

The Build-A-Thon’s scale has significantly increased since it first came to Rutgers this past April.

Paul Campbell, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences sophomore, was a participant at the Build-A-thon.

“This is my first year participating here,” Campbell said, amid the pounding hammers and wafting sawdust. “I just thought it was a good cause, and I started raising money so I figured I might as well see it through.”

By Charlie Melman

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