A Time to Grow

It took more than 3,000 hours to build Rheanna Scott’s home in Ontario, Canada. Nearly 500 of those hours belonged to Lakehead University student Geoff Terpstra, who decided to give a summer to Habitat for Humanity Thunder Bay, even though he hadn’t spent even one hour on a Habitat build site before.

As a future civil engineer, Terpstra thought Habitat presented an intriguing opportunity. “I was always fascinated with the process and technical challenges that come with building a house,” he says. “I saw the opportunity as a learning experience, a chance to gain valuable skills — not only in life, but also ones that I can take forward in my career.”

Terpstra jumped in with both feet. “Geoff came every day and without hesitation,” says Habitat Thunder Bay build coordinator Leonard Roy. “If I had 5 Geoff Terpstras, I could build a Habitat home without delays or worry.”

Spending all that time on the build site gave Terpstra a wide range of new skills, from not feeling defeated when a terrible storm soaked the foundation in what “had to have been a good foot of water” to the precision and accuracy needed for his favorite task, nailing down the decking for the home’s main floor. He says it wasn’t the hardest task, and he took to it easily, but it was his favorite because of the progress it represented. “At that point, it really felt like we were accomplishing something, getting off the ground and beginning to build up,” he explains.

Terpstra says he’s always looking for new ways to learn and found Habitat unlike anything else he’s done. The full-time student is also a volunteer soccer coach and observes that the time he puts into that effort creates skills in leadership, collaboration and communication. His Habitat time, he says, resulted in a different set of skills. “It was taking information and applying it to the task,” he says. “I was constantly trying to think a few steps ahead, to try and anticipate solutions to potential problems and issues that could arise.”

For Terpstra, giving his summer to Habitat was time well spent. Though the build spanned five months, time passed quickly, he says. He calls those 493 hours on the Habitat site “an amazing learning experience that helped shape me into a better citizen.” He plans to continue volunteering, having developed a deep appreciation for “stories told over coffee each morning, the camaraderie of every person who stepped on the job site, all for a bigger cause.”

Megan Frank