Livingstone students work to build Habitat house during leadership retreat

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 8, 2013

During a leadership retreat in 2009, Livingstone College students traveled to New Orleans to help renovate houses damaged by Hurricane Katrina. In 2011, students went to Birmingham, Ala., to perform community service work there.
But for this year’s retreat, named after Livingstone College President Dr. Jimmy R. Jenkins, Sr., students are staying right here in Rowan County and doing something very special: They’re helping to build a Habitat house.
While most college students across the United States are enjoying their last few days of summer break, about 70 Livingstone College students are spending their days in the hot sun laboring on a house in Spencer. And when they stop working and return to campus each evening, they’re participating in workshops and other events designed to improve their leadership skills.
“The fact that Livingstone College has partnered with Habitat for Humanity of Rowan County demonstrates the institution’s commitment to being a good public steward,” Jenkins said. “The fact that we were able to get 70 students to sign up to be part of this wonderful endeavor proves our students understand the importance of helping others and reaching beyond themselves. In the weeks just before the start of a new academic year, many students clamor to get to the beach one final time or to do other fun things, but we had absolutely no dissension when we asked our students to come back early to help build a house. In fact, they were excited about the chance to participate.”
The 8th Annual Student Leadership Retreat officially kicked off on Sunday at Soldiers Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church, where the purpose of the Student Leadership Retreat was outlined and students were treated to dinner. While they were at Soldiers Memorial, students were told the history of Livingstone College by alumnus Dr. Yvonne A. Tracey.
“She talked about Dr. Joseph Charles Price and James K. Aggrey and how they were connected to Soldiers Memorial,” said Manuel McGriff, assistant vice president of student affairs and dean of students. “She really got the students excited and discussed the importance of finding a church home while they’re in college.”
Price is the founder and first president of Livingstone College. Aggrey was one of the first African students to graduate from the institution and also served as secretary-treasurer of the college. The cafeteria is named after him.
McGriff said the students had a good time at Soldiers Memorial, where Dr. Grant Harrison serves as pastor and his wife, Livingstone professor Dr. Joanne Harrison, is minister of music. But McGriff said it was evident students couldn’t wait until Monday morning when they could begin building the house.
“I think this is a great opportunity to expose the students to the construction industry and also to instill in them a sense of pride for their adopted community,” McGriff said at the home site. “While they’re at Livingstone, Salisbury is their home away from home, and it’s important for them to support the neighborhoods in which they were reared but also the neighborhood they will encompass as Livingstone students.”
Carl James, a senior business administration major from Williston, Fla., spent time on Monday carrying boards to be measured for cutting.
“I think it’s good that Livingstone is a part of this,” James said. “I wanted to participate just to help out in the community.”
For Ernest Fordham III, a senior psychology major from Charleston, S.C., the college couldn’t have undertaken a better project. Fordham, a defensive end on the Blue Bears football squad, loves hands-on work.
“Since I was a young boy I’ve enjoyed doing things like mowing yards and working with upholstery,” Fordham said while taking a break Monday from laying bricks. “As I got older I started doing some landscaping, painting and industrial construction.”
McGriff said when asked, Fordham jumped at the chance to be part of the leadership retreat and to help build a Habitat house.
Pete Teague, president of Habitat for Humanity of Rowan County, said he contacted Jenkins to ask whether the college would partner with the Christian organization.
“Catawba College had done a project with us, and I thought with Livingstone’s mission it seemed to be something they’d be interested in,” Teague said. Livingstone College was founded by the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.
During remarks at Monday morning’s groundbreaking ceremony, Teague thanked the college and said the students represented the “largest group I’ve ever seen on any one site.”
He also quipped that it was the first time he could remember being somewhere with Jenkins and being more dressed up than him. Instead of his usual suit and tie, Jenkins was donned in slacks and a student leadership retreat T-shirt.
Coleman Emerson, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Rowan County, said in an interview he thought the partnership with Livingstone College was wonderful.
“The intention of Habitat is exactly what’s happening out here today,” Emerson said. “Somebody gets a house but everybody gets joy out of helping to make this community a more loving place in which to live.”
In late April, Habitat for Humanity of Rowan County celebrated a milestone with the construction of their 100th home. The house the Livingstone students are helping build this week is the fifth Habitat house to be constructed in Rowan County this year, and students are also working on a sixth house being constructed next door.
Miss Livingstone College Anna Kay Edwards and Student Government Association President Shari Albury are among the retreat participants.
“The leadership retreat has been great,” said Edwards, a senior biology major from Jamaica. “Though a lot of hard work, building a home for a family makes the hours that we put into it each day worthwhile and fun.
“Many of us have never helped build a house before, and so it has definitely been a very exciting experience. It’s evident that a lot of thought and planning went into this leadership retreat because it’s been well organized.”
Albury said the students are deliberately worked through their lunch breaks to ensure they spend ample time on construction.
“This year’s retreat has been the most inspiring, rewarding and challenging experience I’ve had in my life,” said Albury, a senior education major from Nassau, Bahamas. “During the retreat, the other leaders and I have been given tools that are not only relevant to our campus life but also relevant to whatever roles we assume after graduating. Speakers have really motivated us and encouraged us to be the group to revolutionize Livingstone College as well as Salisbury.”