Discovering Habitat’s mission through Collegiate Challenge

As an advisor at Villanova University in Philadelphia, Alissa Schweitzer has had the opportunity to travel with student groups to various spots around the U.S. through Collegiate Challenge.

Her experiences with the program have connected her Habitat for Humanity’s mission of working alongside communities to create decent, affordable homes and inspired her to keep coming back, trip after trip.

Q: How did you get involved with Habitat for Humanity and Collegiate Challenge?

A: In 2012, I agreed to serve as an advisor for an alternative spring break trip for 25 college students to Spokane, Washington.

I initially thought it would be a good way for me to connect with the Campus Ministry Office, and as a new paraprofessional, I was always looking for new networking opportunities. Prior to this experience, I did not know much at all about Habitat for Humanity. My knowledge of the organization was limited to the fact that they built houses with those in need of affordable housing, but beyond that had no idea what they did or how they did it.

Four Collegiate Challenges later, I can certainly tell you that I truly believe in the mission and philosophy of Habitat for Humanity. The idea of a “hand up, not a handout” really resonated with me and encouraged me to think about why we should put an emphasis on serving others. All of my experiences with Habitat have been incredibly rewarding, but each have been so tremendously unique.

Q: What was one of the most meaningful experiences you had during your time with Collegiate Challenge?

A: One experience that really stood out to me was during my week in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Our student leaders were meticulously checking the weather forecast prior to leaving for the trip. They were pleased to discover that the average temperature was going to be in the high 60s with a very low chance of precipitation.

However, when we finally arrived in North Carolina, the weather was nothing like we had anticipated. We were lucky if the high of the day reached the 40s, and we were experienced every type of precipitation possible – rain, sleet, snow. You name it, we got it!

“Collegiate Challenge brought me out of my comfort zone in ways that I never dreamed it could.”
— Alissa, advisor at Villanova University

Toward the middle of the week, it was becoming apparent that morale was waning. However, we had the privilege of working with a future homeowner named Maria who completely changed our attitudes. She was out there from 8 a.m. until after 5 p.m. working on the house despite the difficult weather conditions.

Our group of students had a newfound motivation and worked harder than ever after seeing Maria’s determination to make a dent in the work that had to be done on the house.

Q: What advice or words of encouragement would you give someone considering Collegiate Challenge?

A: To anyone who is considering going on a trip, I could not recommend it more highly. Collegiate Challenge brought me out of my comfort zone in ways that I never dreamed it could. The opportunity to live and work in a new community is an experience that you cannot put a price tag on!

I am not sure that I ever picked up a hammer in my life prior to my first Collegiate Challenge trip. I was afraid of embarrassing myself and slowing down the progress – or worse yet, making a mistake that would ruin the integrity of the house.

I quickly came to realize that I was not the only one with these worries. We were all there to learn and ask questions together, and the site leaders could not have been more patient. Construction is not something that comes naturally to me, but I was willing to learn and try my best.

Collegiate Challenge

We offer alternative school break volunteer opportunities to high school and college students throughout the United States.

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