Habitat for Humanity: Lake-Sumter, Florida

Tatum Marshall’s STEP Service Project Experience

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Over Spring Break, I traveled to Eustis, Florida with twenty-nine other students to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. We spent the week working on different home construction sites painting, laying flooring, installing appliances, caulking, and using power tools alongside site leaders. At the end of the week, the houses we worked on were nearly finished and we had the opportunity to meet the families that would be soon moving in.
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Before participating in this trip, I had never traveled for volunteer work or helped with any service projects on this large of a scale. I ┬ádeveloped strong relationships with strangers in a place I had never been in a very short period of time, which is very bold and atypical for my character. Helping to build houses for low-income individuals both humbled and empowered me. Over the course of the week, I realized that my effort could achieve such necessary and helpful change for others. The hands-on approach gave me a new appreciation for manual labor and the importance of home-ownership. I hadn’t realized before this trip that I had the ability and opportunity to influence other lives in such a positive way.

In addition to this realization, I became acutely aware of the presence of hope and ambition in others. Before our Habitat for Humanity orientation, I had thought that the organization was a charity, providing houses to poor families for free. Once I arrived in Florida, I learned that the home-owners must still pay adjusted rent and provide labor as another form of payment. The home-owners that we were building for left their families to toil alongside us in the hot sun. All of them had other jobs and most of them were raising young children. Witnessing this dedication and hard work in the home-owners and in the other volunteers really inspired me.

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There were several aspects of the trip that played major roles in my transformation. One of the most influential parts of my service experience was relationship-building within my volunteer group. Our trip of thirty was split into three groups, one of fifteen and two of seven. I was assigned to one of the smaller groups, and at first knowing no one made me nervous. However, the seven of us really banded together during the week to accomplish so much for the house. We put in long hours of work every day, but managed to keep good attitudes and make jokes. I learned so much about my fellow volunteers in those working hours and built lasting friendships. Bonding through service helped me realize that human beings can always come together to serve a greater purpose. This experience also taught me to embrace opportunities to meet new people and to be more open to new relationships.

Another critical part of my service experience was the actual hard labor presented by home-building. I had never renovated a house or used a power tool until this trip, and I learned more than I could have imagined about how to assemble parts of a home. Our two site leaders, Bob and Doris, were very supportive, even though  most of us had never done any of the tasks they presented to us. Their instruction gave us confidence and taught us many useful skills. This part of the trip has inspired me to believe in myself when facing difficult tasks and to never hesitate to ask when in need of a lesson.

In addition to these two factors, another major role in my experience was filled by Carlos, our main contact for Habitat for Humanity. On the first day of the trip, Carlos told us about the history of the organization and explained the important role we would be playing in the lives of the home-owning families. Throughout the week, he would stop by with the families and introduce us. He showed me what it looks like to lead a life defined by and dedicated to the service of others. I have the utmost respect for him, and watching him enjoy his position in this non-profit has influenced me on my career track.

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The experiences I had on this service trip have since shaped my life and the choices I have made for my future. One major way that I have changed as a result of this trip is in my application for a study abroad trip. I have always wanted to travel to another country, but previously I was nervous about going so far away with people I didn’t know. After the amazing friendships I made in Florida, I felt confident in my ability to acclimate to a different country and applied for the Literary Locations in Greece trip. Just this week I was accepted and am proud to say that I am excited to travel abroad and I hope to continue to travel for the rest of my life.

Another way that this experience has influence me is in my application for PA school. Prior to this trip, I had been unsure about pursuing a career in the medical field. However, after volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, I realized how much I care about the well-being of other people and I have chosen to dedicate my life to protect that well-being. I am applying to graduate school’s next year to pursue my goal of becoming a physician’s assistant so that I can spend the rest of my life improving the health of others.

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