By Kevin Kelley
To many college students, spring break means a trip south to a warm climate with cold beer. For others, it means a trip back home to the parents and a week off from classes.
For Bryan Ambrogi and Kevin Shields, both seniors at Mercyhurst University, it meant a week in South Carolina to help their campus chapter of Habitat for Humanity build homes for two families in need.
The two traveled by bus with 27 other students from the Erie, Pa., Catholic college to Sumter, S.C., the week of March 10. Founded in 1976, Habitat for Humanity is an ecumenical Christian ministry that builds houses for people in need.
One of the houses the students worked on had only its outer structure completed. The other had its interior walls finished but lacked a roof.
Ambrogi, of Fairview Park, and Shields, of Westlake, did everything from painting to raising the roof trusses.
“We were on-site by 8 a.m.,” Ambrogi said, adding that they left to take showers around 3 p.m.
Both students had been active with the Erie Habitat chapter. But neither had extensive experience in carpentry.
“They really do a good job on safety and teaching how to use tools,” Shields said of Habitat leaders.
In the evening, the students met for group discussions and reflections. Some meetings were simply icebreakers for students to get to know each other better, Shields said, while other gatherings included discussions on how they could continue serving others in the future.
Both described the experience as fun.
“To me, it didn’t really seem like work,” Ambrogi told West Life. “We were just helping other people, and it felt really good.”
Ambrogi said the experience made him realize how easy it is to get lost in one’s own needs and concerns. He spent some time with the mother of two whose house they were building. She told him how the window frame they were working on would be the window she and her family would look out through for many years to come.
“It really hit me that a lot of people don’t have what we have and take for granted every day,” Ambrogi said.
Both said they recommend volunteering with Habitat. Not having experience with construction should not prevent one from giving time to the organization, Shields added.
Ambrogi and Shields both attended St. Angela Merici School in Fairview Park, then attended rival high schools – Ambrogi at St. Edward High School and Shields at St. Ignatius.
“We met up by coincidence at Mercyhurst,” Ambrogi said. Both are majoring in intelligence studies, and both intend to pursue careers in law enforcement.
Had each not gone on the Habitat service trip, each said he would likely have come home to the Westshore for the week.
Ambrogi joked that at least two good things came of the trip – his time was spent more productively than it would have been spent at home, and he experienced nicer weather.