September 17, 2009

Bucknell and Susquehanna students with the Lopez family at a March ground breaking

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By Julia Ferrante

NEW COLUMBIA, Pa. — Bucknell University sophomore Hannah Zachary learned first-hand last year how a little cooperation could help a local family.

A member of the Bucknell campus chapter of Habitat for Humanity, Zachary served on the family selection committee with the Union-Snyder Habitat affiliate, interviewing and visiting the homes of potential partners, including the Lopez family of Lewisburg.

"I personally got to meet the family and interview them in their home," Zachary recalled. "There were no hallways, and the floors were creaking, and the home was not well ventilated. They (the Lopezes) are such warm and inviting people, and I couldn't think of better people to give (help for a home)."

Students from Bucknell and Susquehanna universities worked together for 18 months to raise $20,000 toward the cost of a new house for Virginia and Alberto Lopez and their children, Angela, 5, and Nathaniel, 2. The family will move into the home after a dedication ceremony, 11 a.m. Saturday at 558 New Columbia Road in New Columbia.

Joining forces
For years, Bucknell and Susquehanna students had an informal competition to raise funds for Habitat for Humanity, said Eric Lassahn, a Union-Snyder Habitat board member and the campus liaison for Bucknell and Susquehanna universities. This year, the campus chapters, both affiliated with Union-Snyder Habitat for Humanity, joined forces and shared ideas to raise enough money to co-sponsor the construction of the New Columbia house.

Working together, the students were able to collect much more than they could on their own, Zachary said. The Bucknell students shared fundraising ideas such as selling candy apples in the fall and delivering door hangers to local homes before Halloween, asking for donations to Habitat. The Susquehanna students also shared ideas including asking local families to host parents of students around homecoming and family weekend events.

About two dozen student volunteers from Bucknell and Susquehanna, along with community members, Bucknell alumni and other Habitat volunteers, helped with construction of the Lopez home, starting in March. Bucknell and Susquehanna students also helped with family selection, family support and development and fundraising, Lassahn said.

The Lopezes, who were among 40 interested families and eight applicants, are the 17th family to partner with the Union-Snyder affiliate.

Alberto Lopez, a service advisor at a local car dealership, said the 1,000-square-foot, three-bedroom, ranch-style house will provide more space for his growing family but "the same loving environment" as their current home in Lewisburg.

Fulfilling a dream
Habitat's goal is to fulfill the dream of home ownership with simple, basic homes for families in need, noted Cherie King, president of the Union-Snyder Habitat affiliate. Families must be able to pay a no-interest mortgage and commit to 250 hours of "sweat equity," either by helping with construction of their own home or working on future affiliate projects. They also must complete a home ownership course.
 
"They become taxpayers, homeowners and neighbors," King said. "This is not a handout. It is a hand up."
 
It costs about $80,000 to build a Habitat home. The family will pay back Habitat through an interest-free mortgage, and the payments will be put into the Fund for Humanity to be used for future home construction. Volunteers did the majority of labor to build the home.
 
Building more homes
The Bucknell campus chapter, formed in 1993, has sponsored a home in the past, but only after more than two years of fundraising. The new partnership with Susquehanna likely will allow the university chapters to sponsor homes more frequently. The "Trick or Treat for Change" fundraiser, for example., helped Susquehanna raise twice as much as it has in years past, said Lassahn, who also is the director of the Center for Civic Engagement at Susquehanna.

"It's been really fun to get the student representatives from both chapters to sit down together," Lassahn said. "They discovered they have a lot in common, and they realized they could learn fundraising techniques from each other. They also realized that by combining forces to sponsor a house, they could create a cycle where they could build houses more quickly."

SU's Center for Civic Engagement named the Union-Snyder affiliate Community Partner of the Year 2008-2009 for the affiliate's effort to have both universities work together on Habitat projects and fundraisers. The award honors a community partner that has made "significant and meaningful efforts to engage Susquehanna University students in service projects with their organization."

Contact: Division of Communications

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