A Habit of Helping

A Habit of Helping

Incoming freshmen embrace volunteerism with Habitat for Humanity and more.

It's one thing to go to classes, another to really learn.

Arriving at Rowan one week before the fall semester started, about a dozen freshmen in the Class of 2014 clearly came to learn.

The students, taking part in the Freshmen Connection volunteerism program, started school early to work with Habitat for Humanity, at Bancroft Neurohealth in Mullica Hill and at the Cape May County Zoo.

Their week started at a Habitat for Humanity worksite in Clayton August 24 where they engaged in all manner of the construction trade, from swinging hammers to guiding circular saws to hauling lumber.

The students signed up for the program through Rowan’s Office of Service Learning, Volunteerism and Community Engagement during freshmen orientation in June.

“I signed up because I love volunteering,” said Shelby Walerzak, 18, an elementary/special education major from Ocean Township. “Maybe I’m a little selfish because I’m having fun too.”

Walerzak, who’d previously volunteered at a senior center back home and at a Ronald McDonald House, said she swung a hammer for the first time at the Habitat site and didn’t hit her thumb once.

Toiling alongside professional carpenters, the students measured and cut, pounded and drilled.

“It’s cool to help people but also to learn new skills,” said Danielle Watson, 18, of Cherry Hill, an elementary education/Spanish double major.

Watson, who’d previously been on a mission trip with her church to Kentucky, said volunteering her time and energy just feels right.

“On that project I insulated a house and put siding on,” she said.

Anthony Papania, construction project manager for the 12-home Habitat project in Clayton, said the organization relies on volunteers whose free labor helps keep the cost of finished homes affordable for people of low to moderate income. Those homes are often sold to working single mothers or young couples just starting out, he said.

“At Habitat we survive off volunteers and for students it’s a great learning experience – cutting, sawing, hammering, moving scaffolding – it’s all part of it,” he said.

Papania said while the Freshmen Connection students were only with him for one day, he’ll need help on the project through the end of December and encourages Rowan students to come out.

“We have kids as young as nine or ten coming out with their parents,” Papania said. “There’s always something to do, even if it’s just picking up small stuff around the job site."

He said before the first nail is struck or the first board cut, volunteers, who often acquire knowledge they can use for life, learn about safety first.

"It’s the first and last thing we talk about,” Papania said.

In addition to the freshmen volunteers, five older student leaders also helped out on the Habitat for Humanity site.

Senior Wendy Lopez, 21, who volunteers for various programs throughout the year, said helping others is always rewarding.

“We have a passion for volunteering and that is why we do it,” said Lopez, a psychology/sociology double major from North Bergen. “And this program, what can I say, it’s simply wonderful.”

For more information about the Freshmen Connection program or other opportunities to volunteer and serve the community, visit the Office of Service Learning, Volunteerism and Community Engagement in Suite 210 of the Chamberlain Student Center.