Giving back: 30 pairs of hands, 30 hearts, build home over break

Habitat for Humanity trip to TaosShelter is an interesting part of the history and culture of Taos, New Mexico. Just outside of town is the Taos Pueblo, the oldest continuously occupied settlement in North America. A few miles north is Earthship, a community of self-sufficient, low-impact, environmentally sustainable homes.

But at the end of a dead-end street in a quiet neighborhood at the edge of town is a modest home being constructed by Habitat for Humanity-Taos. It was here that 30 hardworking, enthusiastic UW-Green Bay students spent a week of their winter break, working on a home for Adrianna Mares and her family as part of a Habitat for Humanity Collegiate Challenge trip.

The students arrived in Taos late Sunday morning January 11, road-weary and sore, after a 24-hour bus ride that took them through five states. It only took a few deep breaths of the clear, cold mountain air to rejuvenate them, however, and they quickly donned their Green Bay Packers gear and headed out to a funky, solar-powered bar/restaurant/radio station to cheer the Packers on to a victory over Dallas.

After the game, they returned to the vacant convent at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in downtown Taos that would be their home for the next seven days. Here, they slept in crowded rooms on air mattresses, ate meals at the nearby parish community center, shared five showers (but only one small hot water heater) and commuted daily to work on the Mares’ house.

The entire crew of 30 worked for the whole week on one house, a traditional New Mexico home constructed from adobe (mud/straw) bricks and vigas (wooden timbers, harvested locally) to support the roof. The home was nearing completion, so most of the work the students did was indoors.

Challenging was the sheer number of different tasks that needed to be learned and completed. The house was a beehive of activity every day, with crews of students up on scaffolds sanding and sealing the vigas, on the front porch cutting tile with a wet saw, inside the closets spackling and sanding drywall, in the bedrooms spreading plaster or painting walls, inside the shower and tub enclosures affixing and grouting tile, in the kitchen installing cabinetry and countertops, or outside on scaffolds, hanging gutters.

It was amazing how much 30 pairs of hands, attached to 30 young people with big hearts, can get done in a week. By the time they departed on Saturday, January 17, the house needed only some final touch ups and floor staining before it was ready to be handed over to its new owner.

A highlight of the trip was the evening that Ms. Mares and her two children, Danika and Daniel, provided the students dinner. She thanked the students for their service, and told them her amazing story; of a life of financial struggles, the hard work of raising two kids on her own, of indifferent landlords who were quick to collect the rent but slow to repair leaky roofs, and the enormous challenge of making ends meet for a family of three on a $10.00/hour job as a customer service manager at a local grocery store. She also told of the many evenings spent sitting in her backyard at night praying for this house and the stability it would bring to her and her children’s lives. It was an inspiring story of faith and resilience that deeply motivated the students.

In their limited free time, the students hiked down the Rio Grande Gorge, explored the town of Taos, sampled some authentic northern New Mexico cuisine, soaked in a natural hot spring, and went stargazing out in the desert on a spectacularly clear night. These amazing UWGB ambassadors returned home proud and inspired by what they accomplished on their weeklong service trip. As are we.

— Story and photos by Dean of Enrollment Services, Mike Stearney

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