June 15, 2023
Students Attend Habitat for Humanity Conference
Living out Kingswood Oxford’s core value of “caring beyond self” is second nature for KO students. This past April, Maggie Poulin ’24 and Stella Zimmer ’24 attended the Habitat for Humanity Youth Advocacy and Engagement Conference. Throughout the day, the participants engaged in various activities and informational sessions to raise their awareness of housing insecurity and affordability.
At the event’s start, two board members gave an overview of how Habitat selects new homeowners. Director of Service Learning Kathleen McLean attended the event with the students and said that the organizers stressed that Habitat is not a giveaway. The new homeowners are required to give 200 hours of sweat equity. One board member testified about growing up in an apartment with nine siblings. At first, he wanted to be an astronaut and realized he wanted to advocate for housing insecure people, so he became a lawyer.
In another session, two organizers from the Urban League of Greater Hartford spoke to the students about networking and financial literacy. In the workshop, the students were given and profession with a corresponding salary. The students circulated the room to different stations marked by housing, food, entertainment, or transportation. This eye-opening exercise allowed the students to see firsthand how much they could afford in a given area.
Following lunch, the students engaged in a letter-writing campaign to their local congressperson to support affordable housing bills and fair housing. The students could use Habitat’s template or personalize it with their own message.
A current Habitat owner spoke about her experience as a newly arrived immigrant from Jamaica who was a teacher in her home country. After arriving in the United States, she had difficulty finding employment in her given career, so she worked low-paying jobs in the food service industry while living in a studio apartment in an unsafe neighborhood with her husband and three children. She applied to Habitat and was rejected the first time; however, through persistence, she applied the second time and was approved for a new home. Now, the woman shared she owns three properties: one in which she runs a daycare business, another that her daughter, a teacher, lives in, and the third that the family lives in. McLean said the woman spoke of generational wealth and that, as a homeowner, you can pass this wealth and stability to your children. She stressed that it’s not what you make as an income that’s as important but what you save and what you do with what you save.
The students participated in building and painting playscapes that would be installed in the new Habitat homes, a highlight of the day despite the inclement weather.
The conference inspired Poulin and Zimmer to start a campus chapter of Habitat for Humanity. One of the benefits of a chapter is receiving a priority build date where 15 students can go on-site and build and paint an actual home. The chapter also provides fundraising and education. McLean plans on unifying the disparate groups on campus – the Fundraising Club, Community Service Club, Student Government, and Leadership Council, so they work together for a common purpose and share opportunities.