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Building Towards a Better Community

By Nichole Stevens

There’s a sense of instant gratification for UT students when they see a home that they themselves helped build, as it comes together right before their eyes. For the families who will live in them, these highly anticipated Habitat for Humanity homes provide more than just shelter,  but also stability and hope. By early this coming May, the partnership between Habitat for Humanity and UT will have completed its 13th Habitat house since its first in 1997.

Habitat for Humanity“I think the students realize they’re really helping the families obtain a dream,” said Jerry Adams, Associate Director for Residence Life and coordinator between UT and Knoxville Habitat for Humanity office. “We have helped provide 13 families in Knoxville with a home that they can call their home. And we’ve given our students the opportunity to make a difference in the life of a Knoxville family.”

UT Residence Assistants (RAs) develop fundraising opportunities throughout the year to reach their goal of $40,000, half of the cost for the Habitat home.  The future homeowners are responsible for the remaining half.

Families are also expected to invest 500 “sweat equity” hours into the homes and work alongside the students and other Habitat volunteers. In addition to working the hours and meeting half the build cost, the future homeowners take financial management class, and if they have kids, even the children can contribute sweat equity hours towards the home by making good grades in school.

“Many have been renters mostly, so they’re really excited to have something to call their own,” Adams said.

UT students have had to work harder to raise funds due to increased market costs. The required contribution for the university’s participation in a Habitat home build was originally $17,000, but has increased by 42.5 percent since then. Because it takes longer to raise funds now, students engage in builds every other year.Habitat2

Students learn a great deal about the financial and other responsibilities of home ownership. They are also taught on-site how to build by trained crew members that oversee the project.

“They start with a slab of concrete and by evening the roof is on the house,” said Adams.

University RAs, about 159 in all, get really creative with their fundraising, with efforts ranging from floor competitions in a residence hall to holiday-themed events. For Halloween, RAs put on a Fright Night and raised $1,700 in a couple of nights. Other buildings have sponsored art shows, penny wars, and dunking booths. Some hall directors have agreed to rent out their parking spaces for a week or more, and auctioned off chances to win the spot as a way to raise funds. Many others enroll in a payroll deduction program that directly withdraws a specified amount out of their paychecks to be donated straight to the habitat house.

“That says a lot about our students,” Adams said. “They’re living their motto as the Volunteers.”


Habitat for Humanity and UT was nominated as a Partnership that Makes a Difference. Click here to read more.