Like many corporations, Barnes & Noble College understands the importance of giving back to the communities it serves, and it’s partnership with Habitat for Humanity on the Build a Future program is just one expression of that. But if you want proof that the company’s community involvement is represented by more than just a corporate sponsorship, a good place to look might be the Wright State University campus store in Dayton, Ohio.
When asked if they would participate as part of Wright State’s Make a Difference Day Ohio program, bookstore manager Jennifer Gebhart was happy to be assigned to a local Habitat for Humanity project. Gebhart also enlisted the help of fellow Barnes & Noble College bookstore managers and staff in the surrounding area for the project. “We weren’t exactly sure what we should expect,” she says, admitting to little prior knowledge of construction. During the day the store team, working alongside Habitat crews, hung over 60 sheets of drywall as part of a renovation to a three-bedroom single family home in Dayton.
“Our homes are mostly built by volunteers,” explains Lizz Kelly, Volunteer Coordinator for Habitat for Humanity in the Montgomery County area. “It would cost entirely too much for us to pay contractors to work on our projects, so without volunteer help our houses just wouldn’t be built.” In Kelly’s region, which includes Dayton, Habitat for Humanity typically builds eleven homes each year, with a home like the one Gebhart’s team worked on requiring some 870 hours of volunteer work to complete. Wright State University students and faculty have been involved in several local Habitat for Humanity projects – including service learning groups to practice communication and leadership skills on a build site, as well as foreign exchange student programs.
The families Habitat for Humanity helps are often living in homes that do not meet their needs, with cramped conditions and where multiple family members are forced to sleep in a single a room. Others may be sleeping on the couch of a family member, shuttling between friends and relatives because they cannot afford to pay the high cost of rent or a mortgage. The need is great, with 1.6 billion people in the United States existing in substandard housing.
“We always stress that we’re a hand up, not a hand out.” Kelly explains, “Our families pay mortgages and have to attend classes to teach home ownership skills such as financial responsibility.” To be eligible for a home, adult family members are also required to invest 275 hours of sweat equity to work on their own homes.
For Gebhart, working alongside the family she and her team were helping resulted in more than just sore limbs and aching muscles. “At the bookstore, we’re always looking for ways to be part of the Wright State community, and for the opportunity to give back to the community at large, a project like this really brought all of that together,” she says. The house Gebhart and her team helped build was recently dedicated and, with the support of Habitat for Humanity, helped to provide a family with a home for the holidays.