Freshman service trips build houses and friendships

Morgan Hazel

“You don’t build the house, the house builds you.” To anyone else, this quote might just seem like the overdramatic words of a construction worker trying his best to give an inspiring pep talk on the worksite. But to 18 Villanova students, this quote holds more meaning than a motivational speech. Now, it holds the memories, stories and life lessons that they gained while on a freshman-only Habitat for Humanity break trip to Marion, South Carolina.

Break trips have been an important part of Villanova for many years and take place every fall and spring break. This spring, there were 26 break trips departing to places as far as Peru and as close as Philadelphia. 

The week started early Saturday morning as the Marion group, made up of 15 freshmen, two junior leaders and one graduate student, piled into two vans and started the journey to South Carolina. As the sun began to rise, they were on the road and everyone but the drivers fell fast asleep. 

“It was so early, I couldn’t even tell you what time it was,” freshman Marigrace Boothman admitted. “But the good experiences we had the rest of the week definitely made up for the early wake-up call.” 

After 10 hours of country music, two pit stops and countless rounds of Walkie Talkie wars between the two vans, the group finally arrived at Macedonia United Methodist Church, where they would be staying for the week. 

At dinner on Sunday night, the group learned that it would be working on a house for a woman named Juanita and her three children. As a Habitat for Humanity homeowner, Juanita is required to work alongside the volunteers for a total of 300 hours throughout the construction process. Because of this, the group was also able to see Juanita throughout the week and work with her to build the home that would one day hold her family. 

“It was so special to be able to meet the family who would eventually live in the house we were working on,” freshman Abbey Smith explained. “It made work so much more meaningful and I think it really motivated us to do our best.” 

Every morning, the students arrived at the worksite around 8:30 a.m. and worked until 4 p.m. Construction included putting up walls, operating various types of saws, marking walls with chalk, measuring and hammering—all of which the students admitted they had no idea how to do when they first arrived. Fortunately, they had the guidance of Habitat site leader and construction genius Max Hardee and his brother Carl. 

“Max and Carl were always there to teach us the knowledge required for building a house,” remembered freshman Jack Donnelly. “Unfortunately, that knowledge didn’t last long for people like us, and we always had to ask them again. But they were never impatient and were always happy to help.” 

In addition to the much-needed construction tutorials, Max and Carl also shared their wisdom with the group in the form of life lessons such as “Never take your eye off the nail” and “Don’t forget to take a step back every once in a while.” These lessons proved to be valuable throughout the week and the students now find themselves remembering these lessons in their daily lives back at the University. 

After four days of hard work, the walls had gone up and what started as a large slab of concrete and bricks finally started to look like a home. 

As a group, the students were in agreement that, while construction was fun, what made their break trip so special were the people they met in South Carolina. 

“People who gave selflessly and did everything with joy could be a description of every single person we met,” freshman Carolyn Astrup commented. “People in South Carolina were definitely the highlight of our trip,” junior Shannon Lemmer agreed. 

Almost every meal was generously provided by members of the community and everyone was quick to ask if the students needed anything. Laughter filled every conversation as the group of students got to know the people in Marion and each other better. 

“Leaving Marion and the people living there was by far the hardest part,” freshman Maddy Frierson confessed. Expecting to simply help build a house, this group of 18 Villanova students left Marion with much more. 

Deciding to go on a break trip can be a life-changing experience for many students and all 18 people on the Marion, South Carolina service trip emphasized how much they would recommend it to every Villanova student in the future.