While many Lehigh students spent their spring breaks relaxing and traveling, students in Lehigh Community Service Office’s SERVE program helped to fix and build homes in North Carolina.
On March 12, seven Lehigh students along with two service leaders and a faculty advisor packed up and drove two Lehigh minivans to New Bern, North Carolina to work in partnership with Habitat for Humanity.
SERVE co-site leader Keira Englehart, ‘22, said the Lehigh students were split up into different projects over the course of the week.
She said one of Habitat for Humanity’s projects that they assisted in, known as “ReStore,” collects community donations and sells the donated items for a discounted price.
“This helps Habitat because the profits they make selling the furniture and housing material goes straight to their future projects,” Englehart said.
The team worked on various homes throughout the week. Some were brand new constructions, while others were just a week out from being completed. This meant that the remaining work required appliance installations and putting the house numbers on the new home.
Englehart said that since the location was on the coast, the area had been hit badly by Hurricane Florence in 2018 and many houses had suffered from water damage. The SERVE team worked on two houses, fixing the ceiling and installing new floors, working alongside the homeowners.
“Seeing the direct impact you are going to have on somebody’s life was pretty amazing,” Englehart said. “You get so much out of it because you’re giving back to another community and you learn from that and bring it back to South Bethlehem.”
Co-site leader Jacques Pelman, ‘22, said that one home owner walked around and thanked each volunteer individually. Pelman said that her engagement was a meaningful part of his experience.
Upon returning to the Southside, SERVE members emphasize applying the lessons learned from the trips to the greater Bethlehem community.
Pelman said that coming back to the Bethlehem community, students should actively look for where help is being requested and where to best show their support.
“I feel that if students find direct ways to help the community, with their own two hands and their minds, it can really improve the livability of the Southside community,” Pelman said.
Englehart volunteered with two SERVE projects, one during her freshman and sophomore years respectively, before the program was paused due to COVID-19. She said it was her amazing experiences as a participant that made her want to apply to be a site-leader her senior year.
She said making sure that the participants had a fun and meaningful experience was gratifying.
“It’s been a year when we’re trying to reintroduce SERVE back into Lehigh’s community,” said SERVE coordinator Julian Layton, ‘22. “Normally we would run four trips in the spring and one trip in the winter. We’re very happy that we were able to do a trip at all and thankful that we were able to reestablish the program into students’ minds.”
Layton said next year they expect to be back in full force.
Previous SERVE projects have addressed concerns such as environmental conservation, food insecurity and hunger and homelessness.
Layton said these issues are similar to those faced in the Bethlehem community, so in the next few weeks they will focus on post-service initiatives within the local area.
“Affordable housing is an issue that Bethlehem struggles with as much as many other communities do, so it’s very applicable,” Layton said.
For those interested in getting involved in future SERVE projects, Englehart said to give it a shot. She said it became one of her favorite experiences she has been part of at Lehigh.
“No matter what choice you make for your spring break, it is a valid choice. If you just need a break and you need to go relax on a beach that’s perfectly fine,” Layton said. “But we definitely want people to know that the option to go do service, to do something meaningful and to meet cool people is there.”