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Habitat event draws Ill. students to Starkville

March 4, 2012


Starkville Habitat for Humanity broke ground yesterday on two new houses on Murdock Lane in Starkville, and special guests who assisted this week were on hand for the ceremony.
Students from Rockford College in Rockford, Ill., chose to spend their spring break here in Starkville to help build the two homes. The houses are under construction for Tina Williams and her children Alexis and Blake, and Shonda Randle and her children Jalyn and Reylee.
Rockford College represents one of four student groups working with Habitat for Humanity in the coming weeks. Habitat Executive Director Freddie Rasberry said Rockford College has assisted Starkville for 19 years.
“They say they keep coming back because of the hospitality extended to them by the Starkville community,” Rasberry said.
B. Roy Roncal recently said in Rockford College’s publication “Catalyst” that the 21 Rockford College students are part of the Alan Hutchrocft Alternative Spring Break.
“As winter turns to spring in the upper Midwest, many college students look forward to spring break away from their academic endeavors,” Roncal said. “Twenty-one Rockford College students are no different, as they gather to plan a trip south to warmer, if not always drier, weather.”
Roncal said the students look forward to sampling Southern food and making new friends.
“They hope that other past friends may have an opportunity to meet up with them, even if it is only for a few days of the planned week-long adventure,” Roncal said. “The newer students ask what clothes and in particular, footwear should be brought. The more experienced explain that (T-shirts) of all kinds are required and that no one should forget the sunscreen.”
Roncal said the students embark on their 11-hour bus ride to Starkville to experience the Collegiate Challenge program of Habitat for Humanity. These students, along with 10 Rockford College alumni, will start building two houses, which are part of the community that Starkville Habitat continues to develop.
“Rockford College has been traveling to Starkville for more than fifteen years; a relationship that was initiated by a small group of students who realized that they were more fortunate than others were,” Roncal said. “In the 1990s after a series of floods in the Midwest, the Rockford College students went to southern Illinois, assisted with clean–up efforts and made initial contact with members of Habitat. The students learned of the Collegiate Challenge program that encouraged college students to work together with community members in all sorts of phases of home construction or rehabilitation.”
Roncal said the following spring those 10 students and one faculty advisor found the community of Starkville. They estimated that if driving non-stop, they could arrive in one day and be ready to work for an entire week, then return in one day and be ready for classes to start up the next day. Since that initial trip, the program has grown to include Rockford College students, faculty, staff and alumni.
“It has become an experience for students to learn non-academic lessons from elders and for returners to learn leadership through service,” Roncal said. “Some alumni schedule vacation specifically on this week, just to pay for the right to work all week. All participants pay; some ask their family members to contribute; some ask their professors or their employers to contribute.”
Roncal said the students often tour the campus of Mississippi State University. Sometime during the week all participants will walk away from the construction site just to take in the progress that was made in years previous. Just down the street from this years houses stands two houses that were partially built by this same group last year.
House architect Mick Hintz was at the groundbreaking Sunday afternoon and said it is amazing what the students accomplish in such a small window of time.
“You can drive by here every day this week and be shocked at the progress made from just the day before,” Hintz said.
Another group coming to Starkville to help build the houses from March 12-16 is Oakton Community College from Des Plaines, Ill. Oakton’s faculty advisor, Marvin Bornschlegl, said his group made it’s first spring break trip in March 2011 to Oak Ridge, Tenn. where Oakton students met and worked with students from MSU.
“The two groups quickly forged strong bonds, and a few months ago the Mississippi Habitat Chapter invited the Oakton Chapter to travel to Starkville this spring and once again work together,” said Bornschlegl. “Traveling affords our student the opportunity to build more than homes. Working with Habitat teaches lessons they could never learn in a classroom — and the work is rewarding beyond all financial compensation. We are truly excited to build two homes and strengthen our relationship this year with the people of Starkville.”
The next group coming to Starkville will be Elmhurst College from Elmhurst, Ill. The group arrives March 19. Jenny Ackerman of Elmhurst College Habitat for Humanity said Elmhurst College is a small liberal arts school in suburban Chicago.
“We have about 3,000 students studying a wide variety of subjects,” Ackerman said. “Our campus has an active Chapter of Habitat for Humanity. We have been going on alternative break trips for many years. The group we are bringing has a wide variety of ages and interests. The great thing about our campus chapter is that it pulls people from all over campus. We are excited to explore Starkville and learn about somewhere new.”
Notre Dame Preparatory School will be the last of the four groups to come on April 2-5. Steve Pomplon, faculty advisor, said the group from Towson, Md., is an all-girl, Catholic high school, and has been visiting Starkville for about 18 or 19 years now. 
“The students coming are all seniors, and have to apply for our trip –– we have had to turn down many applicants in the past because of the high interest,” Pomplon said. “The students hear about the wonderful hospitality from Starkville, and the beautiful sense of community you all share, and our students want to experience it. So, it’s a funny thing — we feel like we get so much more than we could ever give to Starkville. And we must say that John and Linda Brazeale are superstars — our students always come back enamored with their generosity.”
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