Students work with Habitat for Humanity

If you’ve run a relay race, you understand how a Habitat for Humanity house gets built. A fundraiser might run with the baton first before handing off to someone who lays floorboards, who hands off to a framer, who’s got a painter in his sights. Only in the case of Habitat, it’s a whole team that runs each leg of the race, and in Muncie, Ball State has a long history of running laps and crossing finish lines with those teams.

Construction Management Instructor Jennifer Warrner is a Habitat veteran who has served as team captain on the organization’s Women Build project for six years. This year she took five students with her to work on a house at 1420 W. Memorial Dr. on Muncie’s south side.

Students used nail guns, circular saws, and other tools to secure floor joists, install insulation, and set boards for the subfloor. None of them had worked on a Habitat project before, but they all enjoyed the hard work, and many were able to meet the homeowner who dropped by with her two young children.

“This was my favorite part of the day because I love being able to interact with the people our work will be impacting,” said Kathy Berryhill, a CM major from Indianapolis. “At one point the kids tried to help us build because they can’t wait to be able to live in their new house, so that was really fun.”

The Habitat house the students worked on is in a district marked for stabilization and enhancement efforts by the 8twelve Coalition which takes its name from the boundaries of the special district: 12th Street, 8th Street, Perkins Street on the west and Madison Street on the east.

“This is a new construction that’s going to really change that block of Memorial,” Warrner said. “I have a great deal of respect for the work Habitat does. It’s a great organization that does a lot of work in the community and changes the lives of the new homeowners.”

Habitat makes homes ready for low to moderate-income families who have steady income and can afford no-interest mortgage payments. Families contribute sweat equity and attend education courses on budgeting, home ownership, how to be a good neighbor, and other topics.

Habitat renovates houses when possible, but in this case, a house was demolished to make room for the new build, a home whose floor plans were crafted by students in a Ball State immersive learning course called Rehabilitating Houses led by CM Instructor Janet Fick. In a previous semester her students had revised floor plans from another Habitat house to improve the layout used this semester.

Fick’s course has been a staple since 2012 when Habitat asked if she’d considering helping them. Fick said yes, but since the request came less than two weeks before the start of school, she ran that first class as a volunteer. It’s run every semester since and is permission-only since she needs a balance of more experienced students from construction management, architecture, and interior design.

“I love having that blend,” Fick said. “They all come away with a respect for what the other discipline does.”

The students analyze houses, checking foundation, structure, roof, etc., to see what can be rehabbed within Habitat’s budget. They also come up with floor plans for new builds and reconfigure floor plans in other places. Houses now have to be ADA compliant, so Fick brought in an instructor who uses a wheelchair to help students examine their floor plans which resulted in some changes. 

“Janet’s class has worked with us for many, many semesters doing some great work, hands-on tangible things that we needed,” said Lindsey Arthur, chief executive officer for Greater Muncie Habitat for Humanity. “We have benefitted greatly over the years from not only Ball State volunteers but from many different departments and student groups and with Janet Fick’s immersive learning class. The partnerships have enabled us to serve more families. It’s been very impactful.”

Handing off a project from team to team—as Fick’s class to Warrner’s group demonstrates—is how Habitat homes get built. The annual Women Build campaigns are an effort to include women in what is often a male-dominated field, Arthur said, and 12 teams of women raised the money to purchase the supplies and took turns doing the physical labor, each group taking up where the last one left off. The goal with the house on Memorial Drive is to move the family in before Christmas, but that goal depends on cooperation from Mother Nature, Arthur said.

Besides the obvious benefit of home ownership to the family, the project impacts the volunteers, too. Fick talks about the time her class met with a high school girl to discuss what she wanted in her new bedroom. The girl’s simple request for a door moved some of the students to tears. Warrner’s students, too, called their Habitat experience impactful.

“I would love to do another Habitat project because being a construction major I am learning new skills and doing something that impacts the community in a positive way,” said Morgan Wiley, a junior CM major from Anderson. “I liked having the thought at the end of the day that I'm making a difference and helping a family.”

Berryhill echoed those sentiments, “Physically, I was tired. But mentally, I was incredibly grateful for the opportunity to help the community that surrounds Ball State."