Habitat 360 rounds up youth fervor -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1
Habitat 360 rounds up youth fervor
By Lara Moore
The enthusiasm of youth and the passion of Habitat for Humanity are a powerful combination.
On October 22–24, more than 300 young people from all over the world gathered in Columbus, Ohio, to attend Habitat for Humanity’s annual Youth Leadership Conference. Representing 42 colleges, six high schools and 11 Youth United groups, these young people came to learn about topics such as fundraising, restructuring campus chapters and being better advocates for Habitat.
The 2010 Youth Leadership Conference, underwritten by State Farm Insurance, had the theme of “Habitat 360.” The goal was to encourage participants to look at their role in Habitat’s mission from all possible angles. Speakers from HFHI and 15 Habitat affiliates led discussions on A Brush With Kindness; building LEED-certified homes; grant writing; housing simulations; advocacy; the Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative; conflict resolution; and reflecting a Christian ministry in a diverse world.
Renee Sweeney, a 21-year-old finance major at the University of Pittsburgh, was moved by a role-playing exercise that demonstrated how the lack of affordable housing affects people in every community.
“We live in a city, and we see homeless people in the street, and we don’t know what their situation is,” she said. “One thing about the conference is that it makes you step back and realize why you’re doing these [Habitat] work days and why you’re fundraising. Advocacy is something that keeps that on your mind.”
The role-playing also resonated with Alex Iorio, a senior from Illinois Wesleyan University, who is taking the exercise back to her campus chapter to inspire her peers. Though her chapter previously focused heavily on fundraising, she wants to add advocacy to the mix.
And her enthusiasm did not wane on the long drive home after the conference.
“We were talking about Habitat the entire six or seven hours back home,” she said. The conference “kind of reminded you of why you [support] Habitat to begin with.”
In addition to role-playing exercises and housing simulations, participants at the conference took turns talking and listening in a Habitat story circle. Among the storytellers was Laura Ferent, the Global Village manager for Habitat Europe and Central Asia. Ferent, a Romanian, recalled her initial involvement with Habitat when she was a student in the mid-1990s, just as Communism was falling.
At the time, she said, many Romanians viewed volunteerism with suspicion, because unsolicited work had previously been forced on them by an oppressive government. When Ferent first volunteered with Habitat, her friends and family were skeptical. Eventually, though, she landed a full-time job at Habitat and continues to spread the word about the importance of volunteering.
When it comes to Habitat’s mission, “our little piece is really big,” she said to the young volunteers.
Alex Eduque, a 20-year-old Filipino student at Columbia University in New York City, is ambassador and chair of Habitat’s Philippines Youth Council. She told the group an amazing story of helping to raise 27 million pesos for Habitat—almost US$2.2 million—through multimedia campaigns, meetings with political leaders, movie premieres and other innovative approaches.
“As we build walls with Habitat, social walls go down,” Eduque said.
Eduque found this year’s Youth Leadership Conference “really humbling, enlightening and overwhelming.”
Lara Moore is a writer/editor at Habitat for Humanity International, based in Americus, Georgia.
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