Habitat’s teen volunteer programs offer life-changing experiences

By Katie Caro, Learn and Build Experience alumna and Emerson College theater studies major

My Habitat for Humanity story begins in July 2011 at the Tampa International Airport, where I was surrounded by 20 strangers who had all signed up for the Learn and Build Experience.

I did not know that the next two weeks would change my life. I was exposed to the poverty that exists in the most unexpected places. I was immersed in the world of Habitat. I was introduced to the people I now call my second family.

Since then, I have gone on four trips in three states; visited the birthplace of Habitat twice; attended the Youth Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C.; and met hundreds of people with unique stories and backgrounds.

This summer, I headed to Americus for a second time since my first visit in 2012. At first, I have to admit, I was a little disappointed that I wouldn’t get to go to a new part of the country this year. My trips to Florida and Arkansas had been my first times visiting those states, and I yearned for this opportunity again. After reflecting on my most recent trip, I can’t imagine going anywhere else.

During my first trip to Georgia, we worked on a few homes in a neighborhood built by Flint River Habitat in Albany. We painted and helped with the finishing touches on several houses. Coming back to the neighborhood this year, I learned that all but two houses were complete, and we would work on those last two homes. I was hit by a wave of emotion when we pulled onto the street for the first day of building. This was the first time I had seen this kind of progress in person.

Seeing the impact our work could make on a community really brought my Habitat experience full circle. Not only were individuals being given a hand up, but a new life had been created for an entire neighborhood. This is special. This is why the work I’ve done matters. This is why I am grateful to have been a participant in the Learn and Build Experience. It has opened my eyes to so many things, and it pushes me to continue working with Habitat for as long as I can.