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Rutgers Habitat for Humanity builds homes for those in need

<p>Habitat for Humanity, an international nonprofit group, helps provide housing for low-income families.</p>

Habitat for Humanity, an international nonprofit group, helps provide housing for low-income families.

While many students spend their Saturdays doing homework, sleeping or relaxing, a group on the Rutgers campus is dedicating that time to building houses for families who do not have homes.

Rutgers Habitat for Humanity, the University chapter of the international nonprofit group, helps provide housing for low-income families, said Vishnu Venkatesh, the group's vice president and a School of Arts and Sciences junior. The group’s mission statement is meant to be “a hand up, not a hand out.”

“There’s a whole application process, and the family has to have a background check and prove they can have a stable income ... After they are selected, they work on the house with us,” Venkatesh said. “They have 'sweat hours,' so they’re actually helping to build their own house.”

Unlike a regular home, the mortgage for the house built by the organization has no interest, and the labor is heavily subsidized which allows the construction project to be less expensive than normal, he said.

The organization works on fundraising, advocacy work and construction, said Andrew Spano, the group's president and a School of Engineering senior. The club has embarked on their next fundraising goal, which is raising $50,000 by Jan. 31 of next year.

RU Habitat is affiliated with the Greater Middlesex County and Plainfield Habitat for Humanity chapters. Group members work on projects almost every Saturday, Venkatesh said.

“Usually, the sites that we build on are in Plainfield, and we take anywhere from 10-12 students,” Spano said. “The work can be anything from framing a house, to roofing, to tiling and painting and anything in between.”

Builds start at about 8 a.m. and go until about 3 p.m.. Members of the club and the club's executive board are sometimes joined by other clubs, fraternities or sororities, Venkatesh said.

There are between 100 and 150 people in the club, he added. They usually try to alternate people every weekend to build so no one person is overworked.

“We send out sign-ups as we have events come up," Spano said. "We usually send out sign-ups (for builds) two weeks beforehand, and it’s usually first-come, first-served.”

When Venkatesh first came to Rutgers, he had no idea what he was doing and had no sense of purpose, but went to one of the club meetings and was immediately inspired.

“This work is important because you get to help families who are very hard-working, who are working to get the American dream, but they might not necessarily have all the means to, and they just have some bad luck,” he said. “It’s a really good cause."

Joining Habitat for Humanity was a great decision, Simran Riar, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, said.

“It's nice to be surrounded by people who really want to make a difference and, at the same time, find a way to make it fun for everyone,” Riar said.

Spano said anybody who volunteers for charity work likes to give back and recognizes there are people that are less fortunate or just have had difficult times in their life.

“I like trying to help people,” he said. “Being on the executive board for two years now, I like trying to provide opportunities for students to grow outside of the classroom, whether that’s at the construction site or going out on the ladder for the first time or going out on a roof or using a power tool.”

These opportunities help people grow in ways that are not immediately recognizable, he said.

Venkatesh said he finds it important to help out because of the impact it has on the local community.

“With a lot of other community service projects you don’t get to necessarily see the direct impact, or any product immediately,” he said. “But when you go and build a house, you immediately see what you’ve been doing all day.”


Samantha Karas is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies and English. She is a correspondent for The Daily Targum. Follow her on Twitter @samanthakaras for more.

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