Amy White and 14 of her classmates from the University of Virginia piled into cars and headed south for spring break last weekend.
They weren’t headed to the beach or a Caribbean cruise. Their destination was Greensboro. Their goal, to roof houses and build a handicap ramp for people in need.
People like Bertha Martin, a 72-year-old mother of three who became disabled several years ago.
“It’s going to help me a whole lot,” Martin said as the crew of students worked feverishly outside. “I will be able to get to my car, go to my doctor and go to the grocery store. This will help me live many, many, many more years.”
The ramp the students tackled was massive, nearly the size of Martin’s entire house. Once the ramp is completed, Martin should be able to safely navigate her sloping front yard without the risk of falling, which has happened to her before.
“We just want to serve others and show some love to a community by restoring homes,” said Danielle Hutcherson, student leader for Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship at the University of Virginia, which has partnered with Community Housing Solutions in Greensboro for nearly a decade.
“What you do here this week is just a small part of a bigger picture of what takes place here over the rest of the year,” Community Housing Solutions staffer Jim Sandknop told the students.
Sandknop was right. The ramp these students built would cost about $6,400 through a professional contractor. This is just a drop in the bucket when you factor in all the crews of volunteers who team up with Community Housing Solutions staff over the course of a year. Over the past 17 years, more than 1,000 homes have seen improvements worth more than $9 million made by volunteer crews just like the Virginia crew, Sandknop said.
The buzz of activity outside a home often attracts the attention of neighbors, who stop by to see if they might qualify for assistance, too, Sandknop said.
“If it was just a couple of guys out here working on this ramp, nobody would pay us any notice,” Sandknop said. “But they know something is up when they see a crew of students at work.”
While Greensboro residents have reaped the rewards of the college student’s work for nearly a decade, Greensboro is not the only community that benefits from this team’s efforts. Each spring break, Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship sends out 10 crews to five communities across the United States and five countries across the globe.
The student team in Greensboro won’t finish this project before they head back to class but they will have gotten the ramp off to a healthy start.
“This is just a better use of my time than going to the beach,” White said. “I’m not just serving my own self. This is just a more fulfilling way to spend my spring break ... Plus, I would have gotten the same sunburn either way.”