A new chapter of Habitat for Humanity was chartered at Lehigh with a focus on improving housing in the surrounding Bethlehem area, contributing to a greater outreach by the university to the surrounding community.
Habitat for Humanity, which offers help both nationally and abroad, is a non-profit organization that has chapters all around the country established for the same purpose: to build homes. The organization’s mission statement explains their belief that “everyone, everywhere, should have a healthy, affordable place to call home.”
The mission statement continues on to say “more than building homes, we build communities, we build hope and we build the opportunities for families to help themselves.”
On Sept. 20, the Lehigh chapter helped build a house on Aaron Street, effectively bringing Habitat’s mission into the Lehigh Valley, and especially to the surrounding Bethlehem area. Ten Lehigh students devoted their Saturday to improve a house that was in its beginning stages in order to create a decent living environment for those less fortunate.
Amalia Cote, ’17, vice president of the newly chartered chapter, volunteered at the build, which was possible with the help, partnership and aid of Wells Fargo Bank.
“The build was very successful,” Cote said. “We helped move wood and hammered various things.”
Habitat for Humanity at Lehigh has a multitude of other plans for helping build and rebuild housing in the Bethlehem area. The group will build more houses on Aaron Street, as there is an existing stretch of Habitat-built houses on the street. The club also plans to volunteer at the ReStore, which is a completely volunteer-based second-hand store.
The leaders of the Lehigh chapter for Habitat for Humanity have big expectations for what the club can do for the Lehigh community. Cote explains that these projects will “bring the Lehigh community together with the Bethlehem community while raising awareness of how the Bethlehem community is doing.”
Karen Konkoly, ’17, president of the new chapter of Habitat for Humanity, commented on how the club plans on reaching out to both campus and Bethlehem communities. The education chair, advocacy chair, building chair and fundraising chair of the club are currently planning activities such as fundraisers, poster making and events for World Habitat Day in October.
Habitat for Humanity is not alone in its outreach to Bethlehem. More clubs at Lehigh have been focusing their efforts on improving the city of Bethlehem through volunteer efforts. Clubs like Best Buddies, Caring for Cambodia, Challah for Hunger and Colleges Against Cancer all reach out past Lehigh’s campus and get involved with either Bethlehem or other communities around the world.
“The Lehigh Student Senate even has a Community Relations committee that has “tentative event plans to reach out to different aspects of the Bethlehem community,” said Isabel Buenaga, ’17, head of the Club Affairs committee of the Student Senate.
Buenaga also has dealt with the Community Leaders Initiative for Permaculture club, which was founded to spread awareness of healthy dieting and eating tips to the Bethlehem community.
“They hosted events with children from Bethlehem where they cooked meals with vegetables grown in the club’s garden,” Buenaga said.
Buenaga also commented on the importance of outreaching clubs on Lehigh’s campus.
“These clubs will benefit Lehigh by exposing students to the atmosphere surrounding and giving students the opportunity to engage with their neighbors,” she said. “This will lead students to have a better understanding on diversity and its importance.”
Buenaga said that Bethlehem will also benefit from the efforts of Lehigh clubs because it will reassure citizens that they have the support of Lehigh students and faculty. The city will become more of a shared space between the Lehigh and Bethlehem communities through the efforts of clubs such as Habitat for Humanity, as well as become a more cohesive environment.
Konkoly believes that the efforts of Habitat for Humanity truly have the ability to change the impoverished community of Bethlehem, where 23.7 percent of residents live in poverty.
“Habitat for Humanity has the potential to engage every person at and around Lehigh,” Konkoly said. “Not only does Habitat bring individuals together for a common cause, but it gives relationships a chance to grow and flourish between people who might never find another reason to understand one another.
“The physical difference we can make symbolizes the larger unity that will build as students, faculty, and community members find within themselves the common thread of humanity,” she continued. “Even though there will still be poverty, in a community of growing love and understanding, everyone has a decent place to live.”