How Volunteering for a Habitat for Humanity Spring Break Trip Cultivates Essential Skills Employers are Seeking

“Your peers are currently sitting on a beach in Florida, and yet here you are, in Bear Creek, North Carolina, spending your spring break building a house and building hope”- this statement was reiterated over the course of the week of spring break by multiple Habitat staff members, where 12 students and 3 faculty and staff advisors volunteered their time with Chatham County Habitat for Humanity branch in Pittsboro, NC. As a staff member of the Center for Career & Professional Development, I had the great privilege and joy of serving as an advisor for this trip. I have always enjoyed engaging in community service and jumped at the opportunity to join these dedicated SHU students on my second Habitat for Humanity spring break trip.

Sacred Heart University embraces a vision for social justice and educates students in mind, body and spirit to prepare them personally and professionally to make a difference in the global community. With these values at the heart of the Sacred Heart Community, volunteering is an excellent way to demonstrate and apply SHU’s mission, values, and guiding principles. Volunteering is not just about giving back to the community- it is also an excellent way for students to grow personally and professionally. Through Habitat for Humanity’s mission to build homes, communities and hope, this trip offered students the unique opportunity to not only contribute to helping build a house for a family in need, but also to develop critical soft skills that are needed for success in their future careers.

Junior Keara Mulrooney, who serves as the Vice President for the SHU chapter of Habitat for Humanity and one of this trip’s leaders reflected on the experience. “I have learned how to build my confidence, my social skills, my leadership skills, and work better in a team. I have also learned how to make decisions on the spot and trust my gut instinct. I know that these experiences will help me become a better person and a more reliable employee in my future. These trips and this club have been life-changing and I would recommend it to anyone and everyone!”. I witnessed firsthand all 12 students on this trip learning, growing and becoming more confident in themselves over the week.

Prior to this trip, not every student knew each other well, but they quickly learned to work as a team and to collaborate to accomplish a variety of tasks from setting up scaffolding to building an exterior wall of a house. The site leaders were impressed with the hard work and dedication to accomplishing the tasks for the day, one of whom even told me that this group of students was one of the most engaged and dedicated groups of students he had seen in his time working with Habitat. Each student opened themselves up to a new experience which can be daunting, especially when you don’t know everyone well or at all. They all stepped out of their comfort zone and what is their usual day-to-day to experience something new, from sleeping on a cot in a church’s gymnasium to learning how to use a hack saw or nail gun. This willingness to have a new experience without knowing exactly what will happen is such a valuable skillset. Students face this when gaining experiences to grow their career readiness when reaching out to hospitals to conduct job shadow and observation hours or starting an internship. I have no doubt that this openness and willingness to experience something unknown will greatly benefit each and every one of these students.

Every member of our group was engaged with different site volunteers and staff members throughout the duration of the trip- forming bonds over the joy of building hope for a family that needs housing. Whether these students knew it or not, they were networking and developing interpersonal and communication skills. I witnessed these students learning about the career paths of the staff volunteers and leaders- careers which included military service, dentistry, sales, and nursing. The students connected with these leaders and learned how their careers prepared them to be successful Habitat volunteers. These volunteers also helped the students understand how their participation on the spring break trip would prepare them to live lives of consequence.

Keara also said, “I wouldn’t change my experience with Habitat for Humanity for the world. Being able to meet and build with so many amazing students, staff, volunteers, and future homeowners has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Being able to build a home with love for a family that truly needs it has made me feel more fulfilled and happier than anything else” and I agree wholeheartedly. I strongly encourage any student to volunteer in our community and across the world. Students that are looking to get more involved can work with the Office of Community Engagement here at SHU. For students that are looking to build their resumes up and gain so many transferable skills that will prepare you for a meaningful and successful career- consider joining the SHU chapter of Habitat for Humanity or other service clubs on campus!

By Amanda Shaw
Amanda Shaw Director (she/her)