On August 4, seven NVCC students and three faculty and staff members packed for a week-long trip to the shore. However, instead of beach chairs and sunscreen, they packed their vans with hammers and paint brushes and traveled to Neptune, New Jersey, an area hit hard by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity’s Collegiate Challenge. Although much of the rebuilding has occurred in the town, some families are still in great need nearly two years since the super storm hit.
The volunteers were assigned to work with professionals from the Coastal Habitat for Humanity organization on Pete and Nancy Pedersen’s home in the Shark’s Marina section of Neptune, New Jersey. Living on a fixed income, the couple, who have been married 62 years, was unable to afford the extensive repairs and faced losing the home in which they raised their family. “The couple was preparing to give up their home when Habitat for Humanity stepped in to offer their assistance,” explained Marion Zerbi. Zerbi, a Mathematics Instructor at NVCC, suggested the idea of doing a volunteer build to the Hispanic Student Union Club (HSUC) she advises at the College. “One of the best parts of the trip was getting to meet the Pedersen’s. Putting a face to whom you are helping makes it extra special,” said Zerbi.
The trip came together when the HSUC wanted to do more community service. Zerbi, who has worked on volunteer builds in the Appalachia area, suggested finding a similar project closer to home. After researching the options and costs, the HSUC brought the idea of Habitat for Humanity’s Collegiate Challenge to NVCC’s Student Government Association, who agreed to fund the cost of the trip and opened it up to other students on campus.
Under the direction of Habitat’s crew, the NVCC team took out old insulation, pulled down pipes, handled power saws and used nail guns to assist in bringing the Pedersen’s home back to code.
Iralis De Jesus, a student volunteer who worked to build and erect new walls in the house said, “I had seen tools like these at my home, but was never allowed to use them. It was great to learn how to use the tools – I felt like a big girl,” she laughed. De Jesus expressed how everyone on the trip came home with some new skill. “Even one of the guys learned to cook,” she quipped. Zerbi agreed stating, “It was great to see the students learn something new. I believe it was really empowering for them.”
Karen Blake, Director of Student Activities, attended the trip as well. “I am so proud of our students for taking a week of their summer to reach out in such a meaningful way. The beauty of it is that the effect is two-fold – it positively impacts those who received the fruits of our labor as well as the volunteers. Speaking for myself, I gained perspective and humility from this wonderful experience.”
Both Zerbi and Blake hope to run a similar trip next year. In the meantime, the students are discussing participating in a more-local build to continue giving back.