Habitat for Humanity volunteers participate in Collegiate Challenge

The Starkville Rotary Club presented a $2,500 check to Starkville Habitat for Humanity executive director Joel Downey and volunteers Jonathan Powell, Andrew Duback and Mariam Khmaladze. (Photo by Mary Rumore, SDN)
Staff Writer

College students from across the country are spending their spring breaks volunteering with Starkville Habitat for Humanity to build the organization's 64th house on Dr. Douglas L. Conner Drive.

Starkville Habitat for Humanity executive director Joel Downey said during Monday's Rotary Club meeting three groups of volunteer college students from out-of-state are volunteering during spring break as a part of Collegiate Challenge.

Downey said volunteers are crucial for Habitat for Humanity to operate. "Every house that we build, we have 700 to 1,000 volunteers that come through," Downey said. "Many of those are MSU students." Andrew Duback, a student from Oakton College in Chicago, said he first travelled to Starkville to volunteer in 2014 and again in 2017.

"My first Habitat trip was my first trip to Starkville in 2014," Duback said. "I didn't know what to expect, but I had already met people like Jonathan so I knew my group and I was really excited to make some more friends and get to travel, and to something that I knew I would enjoy doing."

Through team building on the construction site, Duback said he was able to grow irreplaceable friendships.

"After the trip, those people proved to be some of my best friends," Duback said. "I was really grateful to be able to strengthen our friendship through the Collegiate Challenge."

Jonathan Powell also travelled to Starkville from Chicago in 2014, and he said the trip inspired him to become the club president at Oakton College and continue volunteering with Habitat for Humanity.

"Since we left Starkville the first time, I've always advocated to come back," Powell said. "It is absolutely magical, especially when we get to meet the partner families."

Powell said he always encourages other college students to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity for the life-changing experience, as well as the Southern hospitality and cuisine.

Another Collegiate Challenge volunteer, Mariam Khmaladze is a native of the nation of Georgia and now attends MSU-Meridian.

Khmaladze said she first volunteered with Starkville Habitat for Humanity to meet new people and practice her communication skills.

She travels to Starkville weekly to volunteer with Starkville Habitat for Humanity. Khmaladze said volunteering with Habitat for Humanity has been a life-changing experience, and she enjoys showing her family the house she helped to build for others when they come to Starkville.

"I gained so much experience and knowledge since I came here for the first time," she said. "I grew as a person, and I can't really describe how much this experience means to me. It's not just about building a house and putting nails in the wood. It's so much more."

Downey said homeowners to be served by Habitat for Humanity are selected twice a year through an application process, on income, interviews, credit reports, essays and in-home visits.

"We won't run out of people who need help, and we won't run out of volunteers, but we always need help from the community with funding, and Starkville has been very generous every year," Downey said.

The Starkville Habitat for Humanity was presented with a $2,500 check funded by the Rotary Classic Rodeo to use toward their service projects.