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Building Community in the South

When they could have basked in the Cancun sun, four groups of URI students spent their spring break working all day and often sleeping on floors at night.

“These kinds of University experiences show students the connections between the classroom and society,” said Gail Faris, whose honors course, Classroom Without Borders, includes an alternative spring break. Faris has spent the past six spring breaks overseeing students doing community service in other states. This year, accompanied by Chip Yensan, assistant vice president for Student Affairs, she lead 23 URI students who emptied an 18-wheeler filled with kitchen cabinets, installed windows, and hammered clips into boards for Habitat for Humanity in Birmingham, Ala.

“The goal is to have students think and analyze social and political issues critically and to be respectful to all regardless of difference,” says Faris.

Faris also kept in contact with URI seniors Elise Glidden and Ryan Kilpatrick who led six other students to Exmore, Va., as part of a senior honors project. They pitched in to help the Eastern Shore Habitat for Humanity affiliate.

“We worked on three different houses, two foundations, and an enclosed structure. We built a driveway, which included shoveling and raking dirt and then laying the gravel. We also installed anchor bolts, did some plumbing, closed gaps in one of the houses’ framework, reinstalled insulation, and set up scaffolding,” explained Glidden.

Besides practical construction skills, the students learned valuable lessons in friendship. “Eight different people became as close as family in just a week’s time,” she said.

Twenty-three members of the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship hopped on a bus and nearly 30 hours later rolled into New Orleans to help remake what Hurricane Katina had destroyed.

“We went because as Christians we believe our faith does not allow us to be complacent in the face of others’ suffering,” said fellowship member Adam Croft. The group helped Habitat for Humanity, Arkansas Baptist Builders, ReBuild Together, and the St. Bernard’s Project. After the day’s work, they discussed connections between the Christian worldview and justice issues.

New Orleans was also the destination of 21 students from URI Habitat and URI Students Actively Volunteering and Engaging in Service (SAVES) with staff advisors Sarah Miller, coordinator of URI’s Feinstein Center for Service Learning, and Jerry Sidio, director of University Facilities Services.

The trip, organized by students Courtney O’Keefe, Chelsea Tucker, and Evan White, partnered with the St. Bernard Project, Habitat for Humanity, and the Green Project. Their work included sorting through rubbish to find building materials that could be refurbished and used for reconstruction efforts.

“One of the key reasons for going on alternative spring breaks is to help students take that commitment of service to the community a little bit further,” said White, who will move to Sacramento in the fall to serve a year with AmeriCorps. He will be part of a team assisting the Pacific Coast area in a variety of ways, from volunteering as firefighters to becoming mentors in local schools.

“I have been blessed to get a college education and be able to do what I want with my life,” he said. “Why not help others, if I can?”

…And Right Here at Home

URI, in partnership with South County Habitat for Humanity, held a groundbreaking this spring for four single-family homes on Old North Road, just walking distance from campus.

The first house to be built at the site is the result of fundraising that involved the URI Chapter of Habitat for Humanity and members of the Greek system, athletic teams, and URI’s Department of Housing and Residential Life.

Building begins this fall. “This is an opportunity for students to go beyond their residence halls and become part of the larger South County community,” said Scott Andrews, president of the URI Chapter of Habitat for Humanity.

—Jan Wenzel ‘87

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