Villanova students building Habitat homes

Published 12:21 am Sunday, November 11, 2007

Forty-seven students and two instructors from Villanova University in Villanova, Pa., along with several workers from Collier Construction, began construction on two Habitat for Humanity homes on Haugh Avenue on Friday.

This is the second time Villanova students, most between the ages of 19 and 22, have come to the Picayune area, and the fifth trip to the South after Hurricane Katrina, said Bob Nydick, a business school and management department instructor at the university.

Nydick said most of the students are business majors at Villanova.

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“About half the students here are in my class, and then about 30 percent of the students are in Daniel Wright’s (another business instructor) class. Other students volunteered. We even have a few students who have already graduated who wanted to come back with us,” Nydick said.

Matt Purtill is one of those students who has already graduated. This is Purtill’s third trip with the group, and he said he intends to keep coming.

“When I started my new job with THP, a residential builder, my only requirement was I had to have time off to come on these trips down here. … This experience changed my life and helped me focus. It teaches you to apply everything you have and not take anything for granted,” Purtill said. “When you leave, you feel this sense of accomplishment, and when you get to meet the family moving in, it’s really exciting. At that point, it’s not just another house.”

Cody Tucci is a graduate who returned with the group for his third time. Asked why, Tucci said, “I think it’s seeing the faces of the families that we’re building the homes for and seeing how happy they are.”

Nydick said the students pay their own expenses on the trip, and any funds that are raised are donated to charities.

“We raise money, but we donate it back to the organizations. We tie this into my class at school by turning the fundraisers into class projects. Then the class makes recommendations on where to donate the funds,” Nydick said. “We’ve raised about $20,000 in three semesters.”

Martha Sheppard, a member of Pearl River County Habitat for Humanity, said the group had donated $3,000 to the project on this trip.

Nydick says students are not penalized in other classes for making the trips.

“The students miss other classes, but the faculty understands it’s for a good cause,” Nydick said.

Sheppard said she appreciates everything Villanova has done for Katrina victims in the area.

“It’s important for the community to know the efforts of people who don’t even live here,” Sheppard said.

Nydick said the group is working on two houses this trip. They only built one house during the trip in March of this year.

“The houses will be completely framed, with walls, windows, and outside doors. Last year, we had the same number of students, and only built one house. At this time (noon Friday), we are almost as far along today on two houses as we were on one house in two days in March,” Nydick said.

Dennis Collier, the general contractor for the project, said some things had been streamlined to make for faster construction.

“The plans are drawn, and then the wall section is broken down into wall panels. Those panels are numbered at my shop,” Collier said. “That’s the safest way. It eliminates the need for nail guns, and cuts down the use of Skill saws. We still use the Skill saw a little, but nowhere near as much.”

Also assisting the group on Friday morning was Darryl Ward of Wells Fargo Regional Office in Birmingham, Ala.

Sheppard said Ward had been sent on Thursday as a representative from Wells Fargo to present Habitat for Humanity with a check for $3,000, and remained to help with construction on Friday morning.

Sheppard said many other local businesses and individuals had donated money, materials or time to the project.

“Without these donations from all these businesses and people, we couldn’t do this. We are so grateful to all the people who donated and continue to our project,” Sheppard said.

For more information about Habitat for Humanity, or to make a donation, call Donna Fischer, executive director for the Pearl River County Habitat for Humanity, at (601) 799-4636 or (931) 319-0568.