During my first year and a half of involvement with Habitat for Humanity, I volunteered in a leadership capacity at both chapter and regional levels. After being selected for one of twelve spots on an international youth build, I took part in all-expenses-paid trip to Jacksonville, Florida, where I worked with other teens from across the nation to help rebuild a poverty-stricken community and create opportunity for a much brighter future. During that time, we met with Habitat for Humanity representatives, worked on the construction of three different homes, interacted with future owners of Habitat houses, and experienced a poverty simulation. That week had a strong effect on me. My dedication to the cause grew and my perception of poverty was forever changed.
We lived in a house built by Habitat for Humanity near downtown Jacksonville, but worked on various sites throughout the week. I now recognize the tremendous necessity for today’s society to translate responsibility into social action and help those in economic need. While signing petitions and raising money for Habitat for Humanity are critical to increasing public awareness toward ending poverty housing, I have found that one of the most important activities in which one can engage is to talk to and learn about those whom poverty housing directly affects. For example, on one site, a future homeowner and her friend were working tirelessly to complete the homeowner’s required 300 “sweat-equity” hours. Working side-by-side with this woman, I was able to see her motivation and excitement about building (literally) her future. Her dedication taught me that it is necessary to take an active role in order to create opportunities for change. Clearly, a new home will provide the foundation for this woman to improve her economic security. Like race or ethnicity, economic identity should not make an individual any more or less important to society. This concept is not universally accepted, but through my commitment to Habitat for Humanity, I am working to expand the group of people who embrace this idea of individual equality.
On the trip, we were able to see such individual equality in many more situations. One of the most thought-provoking was a poverty simulation, in which each participant drew a card that determined his or her economic status. Although this status did nothing more than determine the amount of food we received and where we sat during the dinner that followed, the simulation helped show us the meaning of embracing individuals for who they are and giving them unconditional love and support.
My experience with Habitat for Humanity of Jacksonville not only gave me confidence to effectively lead both my peers and my elders, but also assured me that it is important to express my values and opinions, no matter how revolutionary or conformist they may be. As a result, I can say with pride that I am outspoken about my beliefs and that I am a self-starter, as evidenced by my current positions as chapter president and regional Youth United Vice President of Operations and Personnel in Habitat for Humanity. But, most of all, this trip inspired me to take such an interest in the eradication of poverty.
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