Monday, February 23, 2009

Northwestern Greeks Build Habitat House

GreekBuild works with Habitat to raise houses, defeat stereotypes
By Alyssa Karas

Karla Campos relies a lot on her family.

And that family has grown qute a bit in the last few months. It now includes the entire Greek community at Northwestern.

In a cross-chapter philanthropy effort, Northwestern’s GreekBuild organization is donating time and money to build a Habitat for Humanity house for Campos, 32, and her 8-year-old special needs daughter, Briana. In the process, GreekBuild hopes to unite Northwestern’s Greek houses and to dispel misconceptions that students have about the Greek system.

“My whole life changed once I found out who my sponsors were,” Campos said. Originally from El Salvador, she works as a global product safety and complaint associate at Hospira, Inc. in Wisconsin.

Campos said that a new house would make her and her daughter’s life easier.
“It will be a great change for us, a great change for [Briana], especially with her special needs,” she said. The stairs in Campos’s previous home made things “hazardous” for Briana, who started walking at age four.

Since the beginning of the project in the fall, GreekBuild has raised $75,000 and made three Saturday trips to the building site in Waukegan, Ill. Its eventual goal is to generate $100,000, the cost of supporting a Habit home project.

“I think fundraising has been our biggest challenge,” SESP junior and GreekBuild Co-Chair Julie Karaba said.

Letter-writing campaigns, applications for grants, and special events featuring Northwestern dance and a cappella groups have propelled the group to nearly achieving its goal. Additionally, GreekBuild may potentially pair with a corporate partner, according to GreekBuild Co-Chair Ben Mattson.

The home is to be finished by June, in accordance with Habitat’s timeline, said Mattson, a McCormick junior and Sigma Phi Epsilon member. Students are responsible for both fundraising and building, though professionals assist in the construction.

“[Greek Build] is unique in the students being so strong in their initiative,” said Julie Donovan, the executive director of Lake County’s Habitat for Humanity. “I’ve been very impressed by the leadership of the group.”

Though Habitat works with many student groups, Donavan said GreekBuild put extra effort into reaching out to the family. The organization created positions for family relations on their executive board, and made plans with Campos and her daughter outside of Saturday building trips. When a member of Campos’s family passed away, several executive board members were present at the funeral.

“I couldn’t ask for a better sponsor. They’ve been terrific,” Campos said. “We did so much in so little time.”

Not only is it GreekBuild’s mission to work with Campos in building her home, but the project also aims to unify the entire Greek community and combat negative stereotypes.

“You know the stereotypes of the Greek community,” Mattson said. “Raising $100,000 and building a house is not part of the stereotype.”

Participants in the Saturday morning trips work from roughly 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the site, where the foundation of the house has recently been laid. GreekBuild is also looking to expand its trips to include a weekday, which would allow more people to go.

Even though GreekBuild visits the site only once a week, progress continues on the house. Professional and other volunteer groups assist with the construction so the house can be completed on time.

On SESP senior Caitlin Watts’s first trip, she said one of the most difficult things to do was maneuver around the site.

“It’s all dirt. I mean it was crazy,” the Alpha Phi member said. “We had these big yellow boots and everyone kept stepping out of them.”
Karaba, also a member of Alpha Phi, said that traveling to the work site, and through the mud, was advantageous for building relationships across chapters because it made it easier to let go of the boundaries on campus in a new setting. “Like it or not, you’ve got to work together,” she said
“When you’re working on a project like this, there’s a lot of focus, but there’s also time to talk and get to know each other.” Watts said. “There’s a different kind of relationship there.”

Mattson and Karaba said they hoped GreekBuild would become an annual project. Their relationship with Campos is also likely to be ongoing, even after the completion of her house.
“They’re not going to get rid of me,” Campos said. “Working alongside them, they’re like family.”