Honors Fellows travel to Asheville for Habitat for Humanity service retreat
The annual trip helps build community among first-year Honors Fellows while they work in service of others.
Facing single-digit temps and frostbite warnings, a group of 18 Honors Fellows this month traveled to the North Carolina mountains for a weekend of service to work with Habitat for Humanity. From Jan. 5 through Jan. 7, the students worked on three different homes for low-income families currently under construction during a weekend that helped build their own sense of community while working in service of another community.
On Friday, Jan. 5, the students traveled from Elon to a large facility outside of Asheville in Montreat. The students headed to a Habitat for Humanity job site early Saturday morning where they worked with families and volunteers on a host of tasks, from painting and installing door knobs to finishing carpentry for doors and windows.
One of the most meaningful aspects of the trip was working with the future occupants of the homes, said Barbara Miller, associate director of communications and associate director of the Honors Program.
“We were working closely with two of the three families who would be living in the homes, so we had a chance to chat with them about their plans—who would be in each room, plans for the living space, how they planned to decorate,” said Miller. “I think it made us all feel very invested in our individual tasks as well as the work of Habitat for Humanity.”
Jen Finkelstein '19 said working alongside the future homeowners offered the opportunity to bond with her fellow students while building relationships with those in the community.
“It was incredible to get to literally build a house alongside both my peers and the future owners, as we heard about their stories and experiences,” said Jen Finkelstein ’19. “I have found that the physical demands and teamwork required in working with Habitat for Humanity brings people together.”
The retreat, now in its sixth year, was planned and organized by Honors Fellow Community Director Julianne Papadopoulos ’19. In addition to promoting the values of service and citizenship, Papadopoulos described the retreat as a unique way to bring the Honors community closer together through volunteer work and community involvement.
As roughly half of the first-year Honors Fellows are abroad in January, the retreat was initially launched to help create an opportunity for first-year fellows not traveling abroad to experience some of the same bonding activities while working together, said Miller. The weekend of service provides a meaningful alternative that enhances community among first-year students as well as Fellows from older cohorts.
“The retreat is especially impactful for the first years who have the opportunity to develop their relationships within their cohort as well as with older Fellows through a combination of community service and quality social time,” said Papadopoulos. “In the past students have expressed how much they enjoy the trip as a way of bonding with the Honors community and giving back to local communities.”
Lily Sandifer-Stech '21, a first-year Honors Fellow, said she loved seeing the commitment and dedication of the volunteers who go to the site weekly, despite freezing weather, so that low-income families can have a home.
“I was so glad that I went because I got to know people in my own year better and got to know some people in the years above me,” said Lily Sandifer-Stech, a first-year Honors Fellow. "I also loved working with Habitat for Humanity because I’m still trying to figure out what sort of volunteer work I enjoy, and now Habitat for Humanity probably tops that list.”
Following the day of service, the group spent the evening exploring Asheville and dining together. The next morning, students hiked to Lookout Mountain and enjoyed a pancake breakfast before heading home to Elon.