Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A PT Student's Habitat for Humanity Experience

What do PT students do in their free time? We asked PYI student Molly Gries to share about something she is involved in outside of the PT program. She decided to write about her experience with Habitat for Humanity, which she said is still connected to a lot  she does to prepare to be a physical therapist. Read on to find out why.

Contrary to what most people believe, Habitat for Humanity helps give a hand up, not a hand out. Habitat does not give away houses, instead it helps give an affordable house with an affordable mortgage to a family in need that has proven they are willing to work for a house and really keep it up. How do the homeowners show they want their house? They have to put in 500 hours of “sweat equity.” Which basically means that they have to build on a house, maybe not their own, for 500 hours in addition to attending life improvement classes and oh yeah, work at the same time. If you are willing to do that, you are pretty committed to getting that house.

But Habitat would not work without its volunteers and sponsors. This is where I come in. I started working with Habitat my freshman year of high school and have enjoyed every moment that I have been able to help out. I started with going on a trip through my church to Twin Cities, Minnesota. There I got to learn the joys of doing anything to help out, even if it meant digging through a dumpster or moving a pile or dirt. However, I was still hooked and kept volunteering. When entering SLU, I immediately signed up for SLU Habitat, the Habitat club on campus and have been involved ever since. In SLU Habitat, I have not only attended numerous builds and spring break trips but I served on the executive board for 2 years, as well.

SLU Habitat not only sends volunteers to help the St. Louis affiliate of Habitat, but we are also one of their sponsors, donating $10,000 to Habitat for Humanity International this year. We do this through various events that are student run and planned in order to raise awareness about homelessness and Habitat in general. Our typical events include: Cardboard City, Build a House For.., Reindeer Rooftop 5K Run, Habitat Dance, restaurant nights, trick or treat for change and more. By being a sponsor, we further help the affiliate and organization, along with getting a chance to inform our fellow students about an issue that isn’t too far away from them. Especially since build sites are only about 15 minutes away from campus.

During the years I have been involved in Habitat, I have learned many important skills if I ever wanted to build my own house. I have learned I have an affinity for roofing and framing a house, along with enjoying anything that involves using a saw. I also have a knack for a getting the attention of a roomful of people and coming up with ideas for new and interesting events, along with being a great observer to figure out areas of improvement and mediating between various groups of people.

     Since I have been involved in Habitat for so many years, it has affected my view of the world. During conversations with homeowners, I have gotten to know their stories and the importance of someone’s story. This a very important part of Physical Therapy because knowing the story and taking time to listen to your patient’s story makes all the difference when you are treating them and gaining their trust. I have also learned that you surprise yourself a lot. When I started working with Habitat, I never would have thought I could build a roof or really make a difference. However, I ended up leading a group in roofing a house a few years ago and every time I step on a work site I am challenged by a new opportunity and task. Knowing that I can surprise myself allows me not to limit myself in my life and what I want to do. I let myself step out of my box, my comfort zone, and try something new because I know that if I do not give it a try, I will never know if I could do it or learn something else from it. In addition, I have learned the importance of observation and taking a step back. This is a vital trait for a PT. In PT, you are constantly observing, reassessing and taking in everything about your patient in order to best treat them. So being able to take a step back and really look at a situation helps reassess and give you a new way to approach a problem.


My Habitat experience has not only been a great outlet (who doesn’t love to hammer numerous nails into a board of wood when stressed out?), but also an opportunity to grow and learn to trust in myself. It also means a lot to me that an organization is truly working to help educate and house people in need. That is something that I am proud to be a part of.

 -Molly Gries

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