Build-a-thon 2016! (Best Service Project at Rutgers)

Last month, I took part in one of the most challenging yet enjoyable community service projects I’ve ever done in my life, the Build-a-thon.

The Rutgers Build-a-thon is an event run by Habitat for Humanity where teams of 4+ people are tasked with raising funds to build a shelter which they will have to build themselves and spend the night in.

One afternoon, a friend reached out to me asking if I was interested – as an aspiring engineering and hands-on-work enthusiast, I gleefully accepted her offer. Our team was a five person group responsible for raising $200 for the upcoming event. Such funds would be collected to raise money to build an actual home for families being helped by Habitat for Humanity. The supplies we earned (from surpassing the $200 goal) were donated to us and could be reused when we finished.

Unfortunately, the morning of the event was ridden with a barrage of unpleasant weather. I got out at the Livi Plaza bus stop chilled with icy winds and a hefty drizzle of rain. Right off the bat we were given 3 large sections of plywood, 6 (2 by 4) beams, two blue tarps, a hammer and some nails. Through the inclement weather we persevered and completed the “shack” by dusk, a large box basically fitted with a tarp roof. As the rain cleared up, we were given buckets of paint to decorate it which we did with hand prints dipped in countless colors. Later, to get through the chilly evening, Habitat for Humanity brought the equipment for a bonfire and roasted us marshmallows to get warmed up. We had done all we could to prepare and finally got settled down for the night ahead.

As someone who has never camped or hiked before, sleeping outside itself was a new experience. Then tack on the the  30-40 degree weather with relentless wind. I’ll level with you, it was actually kind of hard! I knew it would be cold no matter what so I brought three blankets and wore three layers of clothes, but not having a secure shelter to block out the cold was surprisingly detrimental to trying to go to sleep. Then there was the thrashing of the tarp in the wind; an ominous reminder of how fragile this DIY home was. Luckily the rain had stopped beforehand – the shack would not have held up well in a monsoon.

In retrospect, the experience sounds kind of crazy – pretty uncomfortable compared to the luxuries of a proper home to say the least. But that right there made it worth it. Just for one night of my life I experienced what real people live through every day. Homelessness is not just a handful of guys on a Philly street block; regular people lose their homes all the time for countless reasons ranging for natural disasters to unemployment. And here I am complaining about one day.

Getting to go out and brave the elements with a close group of friends while making a structure was a taste of engineering mixed with humility. In one day I reconnected with learning outside of the classroom while developing an endearing understanding of life for those less fortunate than I. It was an eye-opening opportunity to live a day in the life of impoverished and I can’t wait to participate next year.

Devin Lorusso – freshman in the engineering program.