Two seniors, two juniors, four sophomores, and six freshmen: as I looked at the crowd of scholars chatting with anticipation outside of Levine Hall, I felt excited to get to know them more deeply through the alternative service break to Roanoke, Virginia with Habitat for Humanity. As we stuffed our never-ending pile of luggage into the van, it became apparent that we would be getting very close, very quickly.
Upon our arrival in Roanoke, we began settling in to our accommodations at the First Baptist Church (just a short walk from downtown!). With our sleeping pads set up and our bellies full of warm homemade chili and cornbread, we welcomed the Habitat for Humanity of the Roanoke Valley’s volunteer coordinator, Gina, for a brief introduction to our week’s timeline and major project. Gina knew her audience: she came bearing Habitat stickers and shirts, and Levine Scholars are always on the lookout for a new sticker to slap on their favorite water bottle. More importantly, she shared information about the Habitat beneficiary family we’d be serving throughout the week. Habitat for Humanity’s model requires recipient families to put in ‘sweat equity’ hours; that is, they have to spend time working on their home alongside the construction crew. After Gina’s introduction, we were all excited to put faces to names and meet the family.
Our first day of work began promptly the next morning at 8 a.m. Instead of jumping right into construction, we worked on Habitat’s “block-by-block” initiative, which aims to revitalize entire neighborhoods, not just isolated properties. By cleaning an overgrown alleyway, painting a neighbor’s flaking porch, putting up fresh crawlspace lattices, and cutting down low-hanging branches above the sidewalk, we were able to demonstrate support for the community.
The trip wasn’t all work and no play. Sunday’s weather proved favorable enough for a hike to McAfee’s Knob, one of the “must-see” views touted by locals and travel guides alike. The 8.8-mile round trip hike was certainly worth it. Other leisure time was spent trawling through Black Dog Salvage, a store that uses discarded metal, lumber, and other materials and repurposes them into art, or gazing up at the brightly lit Roanoke Star from the streets of downtown.
During our four workdays dedicated to construction, we made substantial progress. Starting from only a cinderblock foundation, our team managed to put up a load-bearing support beam, secure the floor joists, and complete the sub-flooring system. What was once a pit was now beginning to resemble a home. The best part of the whole trip? Building deeper connections with fellow scholars in the context of meaningful service.