FLORENCE — For the third consecutive year, a team of students from State University-New York in Oswego, is spending its spring break learning many things Southern — and building a home.
Through the students' Collegiate Challenge project, they're aligned with the Shoals' Habitat for Humanity. Along with Habitat volunteers, the group of 12 students is working to construct a new home at 31 S. Broadway St.
The students arrived Sunday and will work through the week on Habitat home number 67.
Construction foreman Sam Mansell said the group is a welcome addition.
"These students have a heart for this work, and besides being fun to be around, they're very helpful, and we'll be much further along on this house because of them," Mansell said.
All of the group's time in Florence isn't spent at the building site. They also are taking in the culture, and learning more about the South, its people, entertainment and food.
Sophie Marsden, a SUNY senior and group leader, said she enjoys the work and likes knowing she's helping deserving people gain affordable housing. She jokes that she also enjoys being an honorary Southerner.
"I love it here, obviously; I keep coming back," she said. "It's a culture I enjoy. The people are warm, and our crew of new workers, several who've never been to the South, are experiencing things like hush puppies and sweet tea. They love these things like I did the first time I came here. I just tell them not to even try to describe hush puppies to people at home. It's pretty impossible."
There are eight new team members and four returning members.
Freshman Rebecca Stroh said her choice of spending spring break helping Habitat for Humanity proved rewarding after the first day.
"I love it here, and I just feel happier here in the South," she said. "It's hard to explain. It's just so different and it doesn't hurt that there isn't a foot of snow on the ground like at home."
Worker Monica Saroff, a senior, said she wishes she got involved with the project years earlier.
"Most people where we're from head to the beach to get away from the cold during spring break, but this is 10 times better than any beach," she said. "There is slower speech here; people just communicate more clearly, and I love that."
Mansell said his goal is to have Sheetrock hung in the 900-square-foot, two-bedroom home by the week's end when the students leave.
"This is a hard-working crew, so I think we'll get there," he said.
Homeowner Calandra Stewart is on site fulfilling her Habitat contract of 400 hours of sweat equity.
"This home means the world to me because it's something to call my own that I can pay for myself," Stewart said. "I appreciate Habitat for what they do, not just for me but for lots of people. These students working here are really unselfish. It's a gift, for sure."
Lisa Singleton-Rickman can be reached at 256-740-5735 or lisa.singleton-rickman@TimesDaily.com.
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