Sabina Sullivan, left, and Emily Della Fave, both 18 and from Stockton College in New Jersey, work on a Habitat For Humanity house on Thursday on Pine Street.
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Telegram photo / Emma Tannenbaum

Sabina Sullivan, left, and Emily Della Fave, both 18 and from Stockton College in New Jersey, work on a Habitat For Humanity house on Thursday on Pine Street.

College students build houses on spring break

By Jim Holt

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The barking sounds of a chorus of hammers driving in nails echoed throughout the 600 block of Pine Street on Thursday as more than 60 out-of-state college students worked together to build a new, 1,200-square-foot house for a Habitat for Humanity project.

Hailing from both Richard Stockton College of New Jersey and Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa., the student construction crew members opted to spend their spring break helping those less fortunate as opposed to vacationing in tropic locales.

Habitat for Humanity Construction Manager Joe Smith said he gets nothing but fulfillment in teaching and watching the student volunteers dig in to the project and learn as they go.

Smith called the busy group of students shuffling around inside the house “a mass of humanity.”

“We get a lot of kids who have never swung a hammer before in their entire life. At first, they will have that hammer choked by the head and struggle to just drive in one nail,” Smith said. “By the end of the week, these kids know how to swing a hammer, they’re easily driving in nails and they learn a lot of the terminology and what goes into building a house.”

One of the best ways to welcome the students to the South was to “cook them a hog” for dinner that night – a meal representing true Southern cuisine, Smith said.

“These kids are engaged. There are certain things they don’t understand at first, but once we lay it out for them and let them at it – that’s all you have to do,” Smith said. “We give them the opportunity, and they always surprise us with their enthusiasm.”

Mike Steele, a junior at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, said he would much rather participate in the same service project next year instead of taking an all-expense-paid trip to Cabo San Lucas.

“What we are doing here is going to affect families for years to come. It is so much bigger than we are,” Steele said. “It is just a really fulfilling feeling.”

Other college students said while they are not able to donate much to worthy causes in terms of dollars, they can donate their time and skills to make just as much of an impact.

The same group of students has been participating in other service projects around the city this week, including working on a community garden.

“I’ve never done anything like this before. This week I’ve learned to appreciate everything I have at home, and it is making me realize there are a lot of people out there just struggling to eat,” said Christine Padovani, a Stockton College senior. “We don’t see anything coming out of the garden right now, but it will ultimately feed hundreds of people. Although it is just one step, everything that we are doing today takes us one step closer to making someone else’s life better.”

The effort is rewarding to many of the students who have not participated in a Habitat for Humanity project, Bucknell University sophomore Audrey Tolbert said.

“Lewisburg is a nice, well-built up area, so sometimes we don’t get to see the other side of things. It is very eye-opening,” Tolbert said. “In framing a house, we can see how we are having a huge impact here. Everybody is enjoying the work and we are glad we came.”

Due to the economy, the local wing of Habitat for Humanity is struggling to provide the same services today it did before the recession, said Eric Ghiloni, the nonprofit organization’s executive director.

Those wishing to contribute to Rocky Mount Area Habitat for Humanity can call 972-1994 or send donations to 1426 W. Raleigh Road.

“With the way the economy is, we’re having to make 10 more visits and 10 more phone calls to get the same dollar we did years ago,” Ghiloni said. “We are looking for some other creative ways to welcome and capture the hearts of people in the community who would like to donate.”