World Habitat Day’s Pitt debut

Students sign their names in support of the Habitat for Humanity pledge to help create a better world. Kate Koenig | Staff Photographer

Pitt’s Habitat for Humanity handed out Skittles and M&M packages Monday, but the messages on the candy wrappers were not so sweet.

“By 2030, UN-HABITAT, [United Nations Human Settlements Program] estimates an additional 3 billion people, about 40 percent of the world’s population, will need access to housing,” read a message attached to the candy.

From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., members of Habitat for Humanity tabled outside the William Pitt Union to advocate for their first celebration of World Habitat Day — a day raising awareness, through the candy messages, for the need for affordable, adequate housing. According to Advocacy Chair Abby McKinley, about 70 people stopped by throughout the day.

“We try to raise awareness for our club and the need for adequate housing,”  McKinley, a junior majoring in occupational therapy, said. “So many families don’t have housing and, as college students, I don’t think we always see that. Especially in an area such as Oakland which really isn’t that impoverished.”

At its table, the club had paper medals that people could write their names on and tape to the table to show they stopped by, supported the cause and learned something new about Habitat.

The club plans to enter these names into a raffle to win Habitat for Humanity apparel. It will announce the winner at the club meeting on Tuesday night.

The first celebration of World Habitat Day was in 1986.

The United Nations General Assembly created World Habitat Day in 1985 to prompt people to think about their own surroundings, and remind them of their responsibility to “shape the future of our cities and towns,” according to the World Habitat website.

According to McKinley, this is the first time Pitt’s Habitat for Humanity chapter has honored World Habitat Day. The club has never been able to set up an event this early in the year. This year, they introduced new chair positions so more people helped plan the event. Instead, the club would build a shack outside the front of the Union in the spring to illustrate what they do as an organization. Today, McKinley said, they had several people ask where the shack was. The club plans to build the shack again in the spring.

Just as the shack raises awareness on campus for what Habitat for Humanity does, World Habitat Day was meant to raise awareness for what Habitat for Humanity, and the rest of the community, still has to do.

“World Habitat Day is an advocacy event,” said Joseph Lewcun, vice president of Pitt’s Habitat for Humanity chapter and a junior neuroscience major. “It’s to make people aware that there is poverty around us, even though we may not always see it.”

President Kahley Stiffler wanted to make sure the organization recognized the day and was pleased with the turnout.

“We’re like guinea pigs and it’s early on in the semester, but we did what we wanted to do,” Stiffler, a senior rehabilitation sciences major, said.

According to Education Chair Julia Hackenberry, Pitt’s Habitat for Humanity has 50-60 active members, and they send out about 20 every Saturday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. to a different site to do construction, painting, demolition or whatever else needs to be done that day.

“It really feels like a family because everyone feels so passionately about what we do here at Habitat,” Hackenberry, a senior majoring in social work, said.

Stiffler said the club partners with Habitat for Humanity of Greater Pittsburgh and Allegheny Valley, and visits sites across Pittsburgh. Last weekend, the club was in New Kensington renovating a house and building a wheelchair ramp.

For Stiffler, joining Habitat for Humanity changed the way she saw service from something she did for her resume to something that gave her “pure enjoyment.” She said she feels “almost magical” when she helps to complete a project.

“It’s an amazing experience to complete a house and give it a family with kids and know that that wouldn’t have been possible without you,” Stiffler said.

McKinley came to college wanting to join a service organization, and after her first Habitat project, decided she had found her place at Pitt.

“There was a mother and her two boys and the younger son was in a wheelchair. The people at Habitat made sure everything was accessible to him and affordable for the family,” McKinley said. “We put in a few hours on a Saturday and that goes toward someone’s house. That’s so rewarding.”

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