Habitat for Humanity of Key West & Lower Florida Keys loves alternative spring break volunteers



Habitat for Humanity of Key West & Lower Florida Keys is hosting volunteer teams from colleges all over the United States during their spring and winter breaks: Austin Peay State University, University Minnesota, Regis University, University of North Carolina, Avon Old Farms, Conn., University of South Florida, Yale and University of Illinois.

Through Habitat’s A Brush with Kindness Program, these motivated volunteers make repairs on homes of elder, income- qualified homeowners who struggle with exterior maintenance, allowing the homeowners to reclaim and remain in their homes with pride and dignity. Some of the teams have worked on the continuing renovations of Habitat’s affordable rental apartments located on Eisenhower Drive in Key West.  

The volunteers also work a day during their week’s visit at Habitat’s ReStore in Big Pine Key sorting through merchandise, re-arranging the sales floor and sorting through tools to be sold at an upcoming sale. Over 70 students are participating in this year’s alternative break program, Habitat for Humanity’s Collegiate Challenge.

“These kids work very hard, and sweat a lot, during their time with Habitat working beside the homeowners, extended families, friends, military volunteers, church groups and many other local volunteers,” said Mark Moss, Habitat executive director.

“Today (Monday) the volunteers and staff were treated to a fresh fish dinner cooked by a neighbor and served by the extended family of whose house we’re repairing. These kids see first-hand the immediate benefit of their hard work on the homeowner, the neighborhood and our entire community. They work hard and, yes, we make sure they have a good Keys experience.

“Habitat is fortunate to have friends such as Pegi and Jim Fitton who throw a cookout/pool party at their house after an afternoon of kayaking and paddle boarding off their dock in Key West. Jim Fitton also volunteers as a construction team leader, along with Clay Beattie, who leads our paint teams week after week. However, without accommodations for the teams we simply would not be able to host them.  We are very grateful to the churches that provide the teams a safe, comfortable place to sleep and use of their kitchen: Glad Tidings, St. Paul’s and Key West United Methodist Church. I guess it could be said that Habitat for Humanity and our homeowners love Spring Breakers, something you don’t hear a lot in Key West.”

Each year the number of groups coming to the Keys continues to increase. In the first three months of 2014, Habitat has already hosted eight groups with a few more to go.  “We strive to make their experience in Key West everything and more than they expected,” said Anna Symington, Habitat’s volunteer coordinator. “On a recent feedback questionnaire, one student volunteer wrote ‘The staff and team leaders at the Key West affiliate are absolutely amazing. They made us feel very welcomed in unfamiliar territory. They showed us the community and taught us many valuable lessons in life and I plan to continue working with this affiliate in the future!’  Couldn’t get any better than that if I wrote it myself!”

Habitat for Humanity International’s Collegiate Challenge alternative break program is celebrating its 25th anniversary this spring.  The program, which invites students to spend one week working with Habitat affiliates to build homes and improve communities, was started in 1989. Since then, more than 230,000 college- and high school-aged students have volunteered during their spring break to help build or rehabilitate homes, donating nearly $24 million to Habitat affiliates.

“We are grateful to all of the students who have so graciously dedicated their spring break to helping others over the last 25 years,” said Mark Andrews, Habitat for Humanity International’s vice president of volunteer and institutional engagement. “Many families have been able to realize their dream of home

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