Seven members from both Alternative Week of Off-Campus Learning (AWOL) and Habitat for Humanity collaborated on Saturday for Make a Difference Day, one of the largest annual single days of service nationwide.
Students traveled to Sioux Falls Saturday morning to build a home on the north end of town. The USD chapter of Habitat partnered with the Sioux Falls branch to fill the need for housing in that area of the community.
“Sioux Falls actually has a pretty sizable low-income population, as well as a homeless population that’s growing in the city,” said Connor McMahon, president of the USD chapter of Habitat for Humanity.
McMahon, a junior medical biology major from Sioux Falls, said Habitat reaches out to people in need of proper housing. In Sioux Falls, they mostly build homes in new neighborhood developments on the edge of town.
“What we do is reach out to a family in the community who we see as in need, and then we work with them on minimizing their expenses for a home,” he said. “It’s a good way to reach out, and it helps you see the need for housing in a community.”
Allie Logan, a senior health science major and the president of AWOL, said AWOL wants students to prioritize service learning.
“We coordinate opportunities for students to be immersed in a new community and really focus in-depth on a social issue that they may not have thought about before,” she said. “We definitely embody what service learning means and how to tackle social issues as a student in South Dakota.”
‘More than being a volunteer’
Claire Hoogland, a sophomore nursing major, serves as a site leader for AWOL. She facilitated the trip to Sioux Falls and helped prepare new AWOL members for the project.
“AWOL is really about active citizenship, which is more than being a volunteer,” Hoogland said. “It’s being part of your community and knowing the problems, and being able to help rather than just volunteering here and there.”
Hoogland got involved in AWOL last year. She said she learned Clay County is the only food insecure county not on a reservation in South Dakota.
“We went around Vermillion and learned about the poverty and food insecurity that is in Vermillion that affects Clay County,” Hoogland said. “I learned a lot about Vermillion in general, and I met a lot of awesome people.”
She also went to Pine Ridge over spring break with AWOL to serve as a teacher aid and organize donations.
“We got to be integrated into the community and see little kids and help out, so that was fun,” Hoogland said.
Hoogland said the people of Pine Ridge were grateful for AWOL’s service.
“They thanked us beyond what we deserved because they were astounded by what we wanted to do,” she said. “It’s kind of menial work, but they were just astounded that we wanted to help wherever we could and after that, they want us back.”
Hoogland plans to become a nurse after graduating. She said she wants to go back to Pine Ridge and serve the community there.
“They’re super understaffed at the medical center they have, and it would be awesome to just go and volunteer there for a year or so,” she said.
Bailey Zimmerman, a sophomore health services administration major, recently joined AWOL. She said it was her first time on a service-learning trip.
“It’s great to see what you’re doing firsthand and how it affects people,” Zimmerman said. “(I like) getting to know different people around campus that I never would have crossed paths with. It’s really fun to get to know each other and to get to work as a team to create something that will help another family.”