To build a home

Florham students use power tools and lay foundation on Habitat house

By Kenna Caprio

With a little cement, some clay and straw, and a pile of desert soil, a group of Fairleigh Dickinson University students made adobe bricks, and changed the lives of families in New Mexico.

“You mix it and mix it with rakes and shovels for the right consistency and then shovel it into a mold,” says Kyle Wolfe, campus life coordinator at the Florham Campus, of the adobe bricks. He arranged and chaperoned the trip. “The mold sits for a week in the sun and then is rotated to get all the moisture out of it. We laid a foundation for one house, and the bricks we made will be put on that one.”

Florham Campus students Angela Guido and Kayla Cursi work on a frame at the Habitat for Humanity job site in Taos, N.M. (Photo courtesy of Guido)

Over spring break, a group of Florham Campus students participated in a Habitat for Humanity build. “We painted an entire house; they just have to lay the floor and do the electrical and other finishing touches,” says Wolfe. They worked alongside members of the families who will eventually inhabit the homes in Taos, N.M.

“We were stuccoing a house, framing a shed, laying concrete for a foundation —important tasks and none of us had construction experience,” says senior communication studies major Angela Guido. “It blows my mind to think that all Habitat houses are built largely by amateur builders. Just goes to show what hard work and passion can do!”

Families in Taos who receive homes from Habitat work with the group from start to finish to pay off the home. “One guy standing next to me was stuccoing his own house! They all were so appreciative,” says Wolfe. Habitat also offers financial guidance and support to the families, sometimes lowering debt or securing interest-free loans so the homeowners can ultimately afford the house and payments.

The landscape in New Mexico offers views of beautiful, rugged terrain. "The landscape was breathtaking. The mountains looked beautiful no matter the weather or time of day. And there was something so poetic about how flat the land is and how many miles into the distance you can see on a clear day," says senior Anneliese Aberg-Scalzo. (Photo courtesy of Kyle Wolfe)

Taos is a relatively poor area of New Mexico, with most economic revenue coming from the tourism industry. “Taos is a beautiful place,” says freshman finance major Shaun Bishop. “Looking around, you can see for miles in each direction. Snowcapped mountains stand out in the background and natural gorges and rock formations dot the foreground. But nearly 90% of the population can’t afford a home. Habitat is there to help.”

Angela Guido and Kayla Cursi take a break from construction at the job site. Guido, a senior, marveled at the amount of work the student volunteers, all "amateur builders," were able to complete over spring break. "I could really see the progress on the house. I'm really proud that I was able to contribute and see how close it is to being finished." (Photo courtesy of Guido)

Students left the trip with a newfound gratitude for their lives, and new perspectives on the struggles others may face.

“We tend to forget the things we have in common. We all enter the world the same way; we all need food, clean water, shelter and human contact to survive. We all grow up wanting love and we all deserve forgiveness and a chance,” says senior Anneliese Aberg-Scalzo, an English literature major. “Getting to hear people’s stories, shake their hands, feel their gratitude and work alongside them as we built their homes was wonderful.”

"This is just such a fun and creative way to give back," says Kyle Wolfe, the campus life coordinator who organized the trip. The students learned to make both cement and adobe bricks during the experience. (Photo courtesy of Wolfe)

The students have been asking Wolfe about booking a return trip to work with Habitat again. Maybe this summer, they’ve suggested. “Everyone felt satisfied at the end of the day,” says Wolfe. “If more people did this, the world would be a better place.”