Collegiate Challenge is a year-round alternative break program coordinated by Habitat for Humanity International’s (HFHI)Campus Chapters and Youth Programs department. A team of four, only one of whom is paid HFHI staff, and three volunteers, coordinates the program.
Collegiate Challenge provides students with the opportunity to do something constructive on their school breaks by helping people in need build simple, decent, and affordable houses. While many students leave their books behind to head for the beach, Collegiate Challenge participants head to HFH work sites. They fund their own trips and make donations to host affiliates, providing needed funds for more homes.
A minister planted the seed for the program in 1989, when he challenged Campus Chapters to raise $66,000 to build six houses in Coahoma, Miss., and six houses overseas. This year more than 8,500 students from more than 400 schools have pledged more than $800,000 to more than 170 communities. Since the inception of Collegiate Challenge, more than 43,600 student participants have helped affiliates build, renovate, or work on more than 1,242 homes by donating more than $3,415,000.
By the time they leave the work site at the end of the week, students have witnessed firsthand that their efforts make a difference. Students often meet and work with the families who will purchase the homes, interacting with the partner families and discovering the difference a home will make in their lives. Accepting the challenge opens students’ eyes to the problem of poverty housing.
Nearly even community in the nation has a housing problem. According to a 1998 Department of Housing and Urban Development study, at least 5.3 million families in the United States, an estimated 12.5 million people, live in substandard housing. By volunteering with Habitat for Humanity’s Collegiate Challenge program, students are actively combating this grave social problem. Because of the Collegiate Challenge experiences, many students say they are rethinking their priorities and choosing to make volunteerism part of their lives forever.
Students’ enthusiasm causes the number of participants to increase every year. Not only do participants return year after year, bringing along more students, but they also work to end poverty housing in their own communities, start campus chapters, and volunteer with their local HFH affiliates.