UW-Madison: Students help build Dane County’s 150th Habitat for Humanity home

CONTACT: Jeffrey Russell, 608-262-7244, [email protected]; Justin Gerstner, [email protected]

MADISON – “Owning a home was my dream,” Tina Bias told the crowd assembled in her new living room as she wiped away tears. As she thanked the dozens of volunteers who made her dream a reality, her youngest daughter waved enthusiastically at Bucky Badger.

The dedication ceremony on April 19 was an emotional day for Bias and volunteers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison chapter of Habitat for Humanity, which partnered with Habitat for Humanity of Dane County and UW Credit Union to build a home for Bias and her five children in a Madison suburb.

The rainy weather didn’t prevent students and community members from gathering to celebrate the conclusion of 1,800 hours of labor during the past year. The Bias home is a special milestone for Habitat for Humanity; it is the 150th home built by the organization in Dane County since the county chapter started 21 years ago.

“It’s amazing to see that all the hard work came together for you and your wonderful family,” campus chapter president Justin Gerstner, a medical student at UW-Madison, told Bias. The house is the eighth one completed by the UW-Madison chapter, which coordinates individual volunteers as well as student organizations looking to get involved in projects both locally and around the country.

Among the campus chapter members are multiple engineering students, including Patrick Kieliszewski, a UW-Madison civil and environmental engineering student, who joined Habitat for Humanity three years ago.

“I think Habitat is a good opportunity to get involved with something that has personal meaning,” he says. “Every family is really special, and every house is a unique experience.”

For Kieliszewski, Habitat for Humanity is also a way to use his engineering education to make a difference.

“As engineers, we talk about our responsibility to the community around us, and this is a great way, a tangible way, for students to work on something and see it have a direct effect on a real family,” he says. “The personal face that goes with our work brings home a lot of what we’re taught in class.”

That’s exactly the kind of sentiment UW-Madison civil and environmental engineering professor Jeffrey Russell hopes students take away from their work with Habitat. Russell, who is the faculty adviser for the campus chapter, says it’s important for students to learn from serving those who are less fortunate.

“They get a chance to see firsthand how they can help others while helping themselves grow and change,” Russell says. “Their efforts build a better and more diverse community and society.”