Rocky Mountain Memories

Before I departed for my Second-Year Transformational Experience Program to Colorado Springs, I attended a STEP reflections event where I was asked “What does volunteering mean to you?” I have done multiple volunteering experiences over the years, but this particular experience enlightened me on what volunteering truly means. Prior to my trip, I considered volunteering to be donating your time to a cause that you were passionate about. After my experience, I now consider that volunteering can instill a positive impact upon other individuals’ lives as well as your own. Through Habitat for Humanity, I was able to see the good that I was doing. I met individuals whose lives have been changed due to the work that volunteers like myself contribute at the ReStore building and the construction site.

I volunteered over twenty- four hours in one week at Habitat for Humanities’ ReStore building and construction site in Colorado. At the Pikes Peak ReStore Warehouse, I worked in receiving where donations are dropped off, cleaned, fixed, and priced. Once all of these steps are completed, the items are taken onto the floor as quickly as possible to be sold. Donations are from community members or from local stores that the ReStore truck picks up and bring back to the warehouse. Receiving is the busiest section of the store because they must have a fast turn around time of the items that were just donated so they can be put on the floor to create constant revue. On my first day of volunteering, I received a quick demo of how receiving works before a large donation of cabinets and shelves arrived. I had to work quickly and diligently with complete strangers to clean and repair the cabinets and shelves. We had to have good communication skills because the receiving dock had limited space and the items needed to leave immediately due to other shipments arriving. At my second day at ReStore, I was in charge of cleaning, repairing, taking off all hard wear, pricing, and stocking any shelf or cabinet, in addition to aiding someone else with their task. On my last day at ReStore, countless items were brought in that I had to clean and price once again. Each day I met new volunteers and enjoyed working with them. One never knew what was going to happen next, and you had to think on your toes in receiving, just like in a hospital setting that I will be working in some day.

The ReStore warehouse sells items that can be used to help make repairs on existing materials or replace items in Habitat homes. All items are at discounted prices. The profits from the sales go to building affordable houses for low-income families. At Habitat for Humanity, we did not just talk about poverty and homelessness: we are proactive and are contributing to the establishment of clean, safe housing. In April 2016, the Pikes Peak ReStore’s profit was $155,000 with their number one item being cabinets, then doors being the second. Every cabinet I cleaned and repaired or item I priced will one day be in a family’s house improving their quality of life. I take pride in knowing that I am helping an individual whom I don’t know make affordable choices for their home.

I was on the construction team for Habitat for Humanity in Fountain, Colorado for two days. Habitat bought land from the city to build thirty houses. Eight houses were already built and had families living in them. One house has a finished exterior, another house had an unfinished exterior, and three houses had their foundations poured. The other seventeen houses have yet to be built. Each house takes about sixty full work days to complete, but the homeowners are told a year in advance from their move-in date due to all houses being built by volunteers. If volunteers do not show up for their appointed time for the prospective family, then the building is delayed, along with the move-in date.

The first day I was on the construction site, I was with the local Triple A. Joe and Garry where the construction managers who instructed and showed us what needed to be done. We worked together as a team to complete the drainage around the exterior of one of the newly set foundations. We created a slight downhill grade on both sides of the house, added three inches of gravel and drainage pipes, and leveled the pipes to follow the slight downgrade on both sides of the house. The second day, I volunteered along with a local Carmax group. We covered the drainage pipes with tarp, added three more inches of stone, and then covered the stone with black filter fabric. Joe took us volunteers into houses that were in the different stages of the construction process. We saw a house that did not have siding or drywall and another house that had siding and drywall. Garry explained to us that Habitat tries to keep houses in different stages of construction so they can be continually working on a house despite the weather.

Joe clarified that the families are actively involved with the construction and design of their house. They get to select what the face of their house looks like and the color scheme of the house. Habitat utilizes the same floor plan for each house depending on the amount of bedrooms the family needs. In order to keep the houses unique and special to the families, they change the front of the houses so they are not all cookie- cutter. The families attend classes directed by Habitat for Humanity to learn how to maintain the house that they are getting since this is the first home for many of these families. Before each family moves into their house, they must accomplish a set amount of sweat equity hours. Sweat equity hours are hours spent building their own house or another family’s house. I am a true believer in the pay it forward system for which Habitat for Humanity is based. Helping build houses that a family one day will call home is an extremely empowering and inspirational experience.

I worked with two homeowners, Sandra and Carly. Sandra has been a Habitat homeowner, but she continues to return to help others even though she has finished all of her sweat equity hours. She told me how Habitat changed her family’s life by giving them a roof over their head that she could afford. Carly is going to move into her house in September with her son once she completes her sweat equity hours. At the construction site, I met Dave, a nine-year-old boy, whose family lives in one of the newly constructed Habitat for Humanity homes in the cul-de-sac. Dave and I talked during my water break. Dave ecstatically explained to me that this was his family’s first house. He finally had his own bedroom and he no longer had to share with his little sister. My younger brother and I have never had to share a room and I have always taken having my own space for granted. Talking to Dave allowed me to see how the volunteers gave this family not only a house, but a home. He told me that he loves and is forever grateful to Joe, Garry, and all of the volunteers because they help families like his. The story of the family who lives across the street from Dave truly allowed me to realize the impact Habitat for Humanity has on these family’s lives. This family of seven came from Africa five years ago and could not afford a house. They lived in two apartments across the hallway from each other. The mother lived with four children in one apartment and the father lived in the other apartment with the other three children. This is how the family lived for four and a half years. The efforts put forth by volunteers and Habitat for Humanity literally brought a family together again under one roof.

The days that I was not volunteering, I was able to sight-see around the Colorado Springs area. The first place I was able to visit was The Garden of the Gods. The multiple rock formations jutting out of the earth where mesmerizing. Balancing Rock seemed to defy the laws of gravity by balancing on such a small surface of rock. My favorite sight was Pikes Peak. Standing on the edge of the 14,115 ft mountain looking down and seeing the tops of clouds made me feel like I was on top of the world. The car ride up to the summit was jaw- dropping. As my Uncle Brian, a resident of Colorado Springs, and I ascended the tall mountain, the scenery around us slowly began to change. My ears continually popped to adjust to the rapidly changing altitude with each mile marker we passed. The base of Pikes Peak was sixty-five degrees and the trees were green in spring-like weather. Conversely, the temperature at the summit was negative five and the ground was covered in snow and ice. This weather was a complete contrast from the base where we just thirty minutes prior. On our way up the winding roads, the large green trees where no longer growing and rocks slowly began to take their place. This is called the tree-line because vegetation cannot grow at that altitude. On our way down the mountain’s twisting road, the descent felt like I was coming out of the sky. I was able to see mountain ridges as far as one could see with the sun slightly peering over allowing them to glow. Another popular tourist attraction I visited was the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center, a non-profit sanctuary for wolves and wild canines located west of Colorado Springs near the Blue Mountains. The locals informed me that this tour was worth the drive up the Blue Mountains. The sanctuary was built into the surrounding mountains simulating wolves’ natural habitats. Many of the wolves rescued are from picture farms, fur farms, and from individuals who tried to keep wolves and wolf hybrids unsuccessfully as pets. Picture farms are locations where wolves are kept and have their pictures taken for merchandising. When wolves reach a certain age or do not look the way they use to for photographs, they are euthanized if not rescued. I learned about the different species of wolves and how they have become endangered. I discovered interesting facts about wolves, for example, they can travel up to seventy-five miles per day. The most interesting and troubling fact that I learned was that people breed wolves to become household pets. Wolves are not to be domesticated and many of the attempted domesticated wolves do not live until the age of three due to improper nutrition and living conditions. I was able to get extremely close to the wolves that called this sanctuary their home. My most memorable experience from my whole trip to Colorado occurred on this tour. At the end of my tour, group members and myself howled, and shortly after, all of the wolves howled with us. Since they are nestled in the mountains, their howls echoed. This moment was so surreal and I felt that I was in the wild.

After the wolf sanctuary, I visited an old mining town called Victor. Victor was first settled in the 1890’s due to the Gold Rush. Victor is tucked away in the mountains and is still an active mining town today. It was extremely interesting to see this town that was almost completely stuck in time with a population of 455 people. Visiting this historic town allowed me see an authentic 1890’s town. While I was on my way to the airport, we stopped at one last site, the Red Rocks Amphitheater. This concert venue is built into the mountain overlooking downtown Denver at 6,000 feet high. My cousin and I started at the base and ran up all 380 steps to reach the top. Being able to see for miles was an incredible sight and the stairs were a great workout!

On the airplane flying back home to Mentor, I watched Denver slowly become a little speck and Colorado gradually disappear behind me. The gentleman next to me asked what business I had in Denver and I explained why I had come to Colorado. The expression that was on this man’s face after I finished stating my volunteer mission will always stay with me. He asked what I received in return. My response was “ just great memories.” He told me that good people go out of their way and in my case out of my state to help people who need it most. He said that I was an amazing human being for flying out to just volunteer. When he said that to me, I replied thank you as I sat in my seat in astonishment. First, I thought I am not an amazing human being: I am just a normal college student who wanted to help people and make a positive impact.

I realized that I did not “just volunteer” after speaking to this stranger. I was given the opportunity to hear individual stories and see how people that I do not know better their lives through Habitat for Humanity. Each volunteer experience allows one to become more educated on current socio-economic problems, thus positively aiding and hopefully enriching someone’s life. One needs knowledge and compassion about social problems in order to invoke an encouraging change. Reflecting back and seeing all that I did to help a family that I do not know fills me with immense happiness. I am forever grateful that I participated in Ohio State University’s STEP program and selected my project with Habitat for Humanity as the experience has transformed me into a better Buckeye

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