Broncs lend Habitat for Humanity many helping hands on MLK Day of Service
Posted: 01/29/2013
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Helping to build a Habitat for Humanity house was a labor of love for Joe Coronado, a sophomore at The University of Texas-Pan American.

UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen (center) is surrounded by some of the 80 students, faculty, staff and other administrators who volunteered to help build a Habitat for Humanity house during the Martin Luther King Day of Service on Jan. 21.
The chemistry major spent a recent Saturday toting wheelbarrows of dirt to help clear a path for a sidewalk beside the latest home built in a Habitat for Humanity neighborhood in Las Milpas.

"I really thoroughly enjoy helping out in any way I can. I don't want to sound cliché but this is one of the most gratifying experiences that anyone can do," said Coronado, who is a member of the UTPA student chapter of Habitat for Humanity. "Time goes fast, you are working hard and you get to see your progress. At the end, you can say, 'we built that house, we helped a family.'"

Coronado was among about 80 UTPA students, faculty, staff and administrators who came out in two shifts Jan. 21 to help work on the house during the Martin Luther King Day of Service, a national initiative begun to commemorate the King holiday by serving their neighbors and communities. Jan. 21. This is the third year that UTPA has participated on an MLK Day of Service Project, which is organized by the Office for Student Involvement's Community Service Connection.

Besides leveling ground for the installation of a sidewalk, the volunteers, which included UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen and his wife Jody, also prepped the floor and helped install the flooring of the approximately 1,100 square foot brick home.

"Our strategic plan is about being an engaged University and I should do what I'm asking our students, faculty and staff to do," he said. "These volunteers are very enthusiastic, they are happy and they are going to be very sore tomorrow."

The volunteers learned that the family, which contributes sweat equity on the house they will live in, is a young widower who cares for his 5-year old daughter and 15-year-old sister. The family has been living in a trailer with no lighting and moldy conditions.

"If you don't have a stable home, how are you ever going to get to college, how are you ever going to be employed, how are you ever going to be successful? This family is going to have a chance because of what the students are doing here today," Nelsen said.

Jody Nelsen (left), wife of UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen, works with a UTPA student to lay tile in a Habitat for Humanity house in the Las Milpas Habitat neighborhood during the Martin Luther King national day of service. The UTPA student chapter of Habitat for Humanity has helped to build three Habitat houses in that neighborhood.
Veronica Villegas, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of the Rio Grande Valley, described the volunteers as "the lifeline to the organization."

"They are what makes what we do possible, because the mission behind Habitat is working in the community to build homes for families in need of housing and we do that through donations and contributions from the community and the volunteering," she said.

Villegas said her organization has received a lot of help from the UTPA student chapter of Habitat, which has helped build three homes in Las Milpas.

"They have helped with three houses starting from the ground up - from the foundation to the roof and everything in between," she said. "Volunteering on the Martin Luther Day of Service shows what they want to do for the community and how important it is to them to help families in need. These students embrace it, love it and hopefully they will continue that in generations to come. It helps communities to thrive and to grow."

The next house to be built in the Las Milpas Habitat for Humanity neighborhood will be one built totally by the UTPA student chapter of Habitat and other volunteers from the University. The house will commemorate the University's 85th anniversary by being named the "Sapphire House." A groundbreaking and "cement mixer" to kick off the construction will be announced soon, said Rebecca Gadson, UTPA assistant dean of students.

Gadson said the project is one way to engage students in understanding what it means to give back to the community and becoming transformative leaders.

"It is not just about transforming themselves but also the power of one to transform a community and make improvements on a much larger scale," Gadson said.

View the photo gallery of UTPA's Martin Luther King Service Day activities with the RGV Habitat for Humanity.