A hook for Habitat

By Abbey Jenkins, Habitat for Humanity International volunteer operations specialist

Abbey Jenkins’ passion for public service was born on a Habitat build site.

Collegiate Challenge is Habitat’s year-round alternative break program. Groups of participants, 16 years of age and older, visit one of more than 200 U.S. host affiliates and spend one week working alongside partner families, local Habitat staff members and the local community.

That’s the elevator speech definition. But Collegiate Challenge is so much more than that.

Of the more than 11,000 volunteers who participated last year, 75 percent of them were first-time volunteers. Collegiate Challenge is often a young volunteer’s introduction to Habitat — and a hook.

I remember feeling that way after my own Collegiate Challenge trip to Jacksonville, Fla., in 2011. After five days on a worksite surrounded by very passionate AmeriCorps members, I felt success when we sided an entire home in less than eight hours. Even one bout of sun poisoning didn’t undermine the feeling.

My desire to serve didn’t stop with Habitat; I soon found other ways to become involved in my local communities, and my passion for service quickly became a career. Three years later, I’m now working with the program that introduced me to Habitat’s mission.

Since 1989, Collegiate Challenge has “hooked” more than 230,000 volunteers. In 25 years, in addition to helping to build and rehabilitate homes, those volunteers also have donated more than $24 million to Habitat affiliates. That’s big!

To celebrate Collegiate Challenge’s 25th anniversary this year, we are hosting a March celebration in partnership with Habitat Forsyth County in Winston-Salem, N.C. One hundred and one participants will participate in a five-day blitz build and begin work on four new homes. We even have some fun planned, including a concert, a ghost tour and a night under the stars making s’mores.

We don’t yet know how many of these volunteers will be first-timers. Help us hook this generation so we can continue to build homes for many generations to come!

  • If you’re a current Collegiate Challenge participant, share your story. Word of mouth is the No. 1 way that our first-time volunteers find out about our program.
  • If you’re a current Collegiate Challenge host affiliate, make sure you are sharing your story and keeping a relationship with the groups with whom you work — returning groups make up nearly 25 percent of our current population.