Pacific students lend hands to Forest Grove Habitat work
Students at Pacific University logged some service hours helping build homes in Forest Grove as part of a winter intensive course this month.
Twenty-two students in Stephanie Stokamer's "Action for Affordable Housing" class were out at Kidd Court, a seven-lot subdivision being built by West Tuality Habitat for Humanity just west of the Walker-Naylor Historic District, for their final day of work Thursday, Jan. 17.
The partnership between Pacific and Habitat for Humanity is a mutually beneficial one. Learning about affordable housing in the classroom is one thing, but actually helping to build it — alongside the person who will live there — is a more direct experience altogether.
"I think they get two main things," said Stokamer, who is also director of the Tom McCall Center for Civic Engagement at Pacific University, when asked what students get out of the experience. "One is they get new skills, and they get an understanding of what it's like to work on a home and maybe practice something that they haven't done before. But I think that even more significant than that is they get a pretty deep understanding of what the housing crisis is looking like right now."
Likewise, there is a saying: "Many hands make light work." When Habitat for Humanity brings nearly two dozen university students to help out at an active construction site, that effect is in full evidence.
"They did so much work," said Sonya Kataura, who will be moving into the house being built at Kidd Court — named for Richard Kidd, a former Forest Grove mayor and Habitat for Humanity board member — once it is finished. She pointed out a gravel area in front of her home that has yet to be landscaped, remarking, "Last time I was here, there was a huge mound right here, and it's gone. It's all flat."
Both Kataura and Habitat for Humanity officials marveled at what students have been able to accomplish.
"None of this was painted on Tuesday, and they're on their second coat of primer for it," said Emma Morton, West Tuality Habitat for Humanity's volunteer services coordinator, checking out the fresh-white interior walls of Kataura's house as of late Thursday morning.
The timing of the project is no accident, either.
"It's a time of low volunteer activity," Stokamer said. "We can kind of fill a niche in that way. But (it) also works well in an intensive format. We can come in and really work for a few days and knock out a lot — which feels pretty good."
West Tuality Habitat for Humanity has a dedicated core group of volunteers, many of which have continued to brave the dreary January weather to contribute their time at the site. Kataura has been out at least one day every week, too. As the homeowner-to-be, she is required to contribute what Habitat for Humanity likes to call "sweat equity" to the project, helping to build the house that will be home for her and her 6-year-old son.
"I know exactly how this house is built," Kataura said of the roughly 1,100-square-foot home, the second out of seven planned to be built at Kidd Court. "I know exactly what's in the walls. I know what it took. I know all the care that went into everything."
She added, "It makes me feel super-accomplished every time I leave here and something else got finished."
It was "amazing" to have so many university students help out for a couple of days at Kidd Court, Kataura said.
"I told their class that it's been hard enough to get my own friends and family to dedicate their time to come out here and help out," Kataura said, "and to see an entire class of people come out here and give up their free time is amazing."
Senior Itzel Chavez was used to helping out with her father's home improvement projects. But helping build a house is a lot of work, she admitted.
"I'm very sore. I'm hurting," Chavez half-joked. "But it's OK. It's the good kind of sore."
Chavez, an economics major, said she took Stokamer's winter intensive course because she needed to fill a graduation requirement. But after working on both homebuilding at Kidd Court and a building repair and rehabilitation project earlier this month at the Rose Grove Mobile Home Community, she said she enjoys contributing.
"I honestly think I'm going to start coming out the Saturdays that I can," Chavez said. "It's good to work."
Bringing back students like Chavez as volunteers would fan the flames of a youth movement at West Tuality Habitat for Humanity. Most of the group's volunteers are retirees, as Morton noted. But Morton herself attended Pacific with Chavez up until last year, when she graduated with a bachelor's degree in political science. She started work at Habitat for Humanity in September.
"I love working with nonprofits — that's like my career aspiration," Morton said. "So this is a lot of fun."
West Tuality Habitat for Humanity is always looking for adult volunteers of any age. Volunteer opportunities and an interest form are available on West Tuality Habitat for Humanity's website.
By Mark Miller
Editor, Forest Grove News-Times
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