Life lessons found outside the classroom

Submitted photograph

RIT freshman Kaitlyn Werner from the E. Philip Saunders College of Business, front, organized an alternative spring break program in March. A total of 16 RIT students, including Steffanie Kulis, a Saunders accounting major, pictured in back, helped build a house for Habitat for Humanity in Mobile, Ala.

Freshman Kaitlyn Werner, who hails from Averill Park just outside of Albany, doesn’t worry about handling an increased workload at RIT.

As co-leader of the Lowenthal Group—a service and leadership organization within the E. Philip Saunders College of Business—and secretary for RIT’s Habitat for Humanity club, Werner decided to hit the nail on the head and enlisted students across campus to participate in their own kind of alternative spring break program. So, instead of relaxing on a beach and building sand castles, a total of 16 RIT students picked up hammers and tool belts and helped build a home for Habitat for Humanity’s Gulf Coast project—an area that had suffered devastation from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“Initially we were going to New Orleans, but I had only two months to plan,” Werner explains. “So, I contacted a Habitat affiliate in Mobile, Ala., who was thrilled to have us come down for the first week in March.”

Mobile is also one of the Gulf Coast affiliates participating in the President Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project in honor of their 25 years of dedicated service to Habitat for Humanity. Since the hurricane recovery effort, 1,300 Habitat homes have been built.

“The Carters are planning a weeklong event in May for students and volunteers to build many new houses in the area,” Werner says. “Their idea is that we can all make a tremendous impact and help change the world—one family at a time.” According to Werner, the RIT students were supervised by two Habitat site managers who were “incredibly helpful and inspirational.”

“Each day we joined them in prayer before we started working, and they were very upbeat, sort of like (ABC’s) Extreme Makeover Home Edition with Ty Pennington,” Werner says. “The cement foundation was poured when we got there, but we put up all the walls, windows and doors. It was a very basic, low- income, four-bedroom home for a big family.”

Although it only took 18 hours for the RIT students’ four-car caravan to travel to the Gulf Coast, they spent 26 hours returning home. “We used a GPS system and rerouted our trip because of the severe weather through Buffalo and Ohio,” Werner says. “But I’d do it all again. It was such a worthwhile and rewarding experience—like nothing I had ever done before. I think we all felt the same way.”

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