For some college students, spring break means lying on a beach in Florida or Texas.
But, for 10 groups of students, it means coming to New Mexico to help build houses for Habitat for Humanity of Valencia County as part of the national Collegiate Challenge project.
“We are among the top 10 organizations in the United States with the most students coming to one location,” said Kevin Cronk, executive director of the Valencia County program. “We have groups scheduled to be here until the last week of April.”
“The college kids are wonderful. They are hard-working and bring a lot of energy to the project site,” said Judith Benoit, volunteer coordinator for the local organization.
The groups range in size from 13 to 35 people and are coming from as far away as Connecticut. They are working on the first 10 houses of the Habitat’s new community located between the University of New Mexico-Valencia Campus and Las Maravillas subdivision.
The groups include 23 students from Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, 13 from Verde Valley High School in Sedona, Ariz.; 31 from Juniata College in Huntingdon, Penn.; 30 from Ohio Wesleyan in Delaware, Ohio; 10 from St. Lawrence College in Lawrence, Kan.; 30 from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn.; 25 from Taylor University in Upland, Ind.; 15 students from the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.; 35 from Littleton High School in Littleton, N.H.; and 24 from the First Congregational Church in Williamstown, Mass.
During a lunch break, the Juniata College students said this is their campus chapter’s ninth spring break trip. Last year they worked in Kentucky. In the past, they have worked in Georgia, South Carolina and Zaneville, Ohio. This is the first time the students have worked on steel-framed houses. Many said they liked it.
“With this many groups coming in, we need donations to help feed them,” Benoit said. “The community always comes forward to help us, hopefully they will do so with this as well.”
It’s not all work and no play for the students. “We give them Wednesday off to go sightseeing,” Cronk said. The Juniata students said they visited Albuquerque’s Old Town and zoo and some even went hiking in the Sandia Mountains.
The students were surprised by the terrain of New Mexico. “Where’s the cactus that looks like people?” one student asked and was disappointed when he learned the saguaro grows in Arizona.
Of the students, one young lady said she wanted to come back this summer to continue working for Habitat.
“Six weeks ago, there was nothing here,” Cronk said as he stood watching roofs going onto two houses, framing being done on one home, sheetrock being installed on another and four new foundations being poured.
“This subdivision is a great partnership of the Valley Improvement Association, Bank of Belen, ourselves and many other businesses,” he said of the list of Habitat partners which includes LaFarge and Marino Concrete, Fox Electric, Clyde’s Plumbing, Summitt Electric, Miller Installation, Tabet Lumber, New Mexico Travertine, Larson Doors, Yale Locks, Hunter Douglas Blinds, Century High School, Brey and Associates, Tibbett Survey, Heritage Title, New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority, Belen Missionary Baptist Church and Valencia Valley Church of Nazarine.
“With this extra help from the college students, the first phase is really coming along,” he said. “We expect to get the first block done by June 30.”