GreekBuild finishes first building project

Jessica Allen

Between February and June, about 250 Northwestern students commuted about an hour each way to build a three-bedroom, one-bathroom house in Waukegan, Ill.The result of their sweat and effort was finally revealed as about 100 students and Waukegan community members gathered under a sunless sky Saturday, with shouts of “Ole!” ringing in the air. They came together to celebrate the dedication of four Habitat for Humanity houses and the ground breaking of one new house. One of the dedicated houses was the first funded and built by GreekBuild, an NU student organization founded in the spring of 2008 by a group of fraternity and sorority members.McCormick senior Ben Mattson, a co-founder of GreekBuild, said people throughout the NU community were skeptical when he and the other three founders first presented their idea for the organization: to fund the construction of and build an entire house.”They said ‘good luck, but there’s no way you’ll pull this off,'” Mattson said.Vice President of Student Affairs William Banis admitted he had doubts when he first heard about the project about a year ago.”I thought it was, first of all, a wonderful project,” said Banis, who attended the ceremony Saturday. “But, in addition, I thought it was a very serious undertaking.”Among his concerns was the project’s ambitious fundraising goal of $100,000 and the commute to the build site, which is about an hour away from campus.Julie Donovan, executive director for Habitat for Humanity Lake County, spoke at the ceremony and said most groups that approach the Habitat office start by contributing a few thousand dollars toward a site. GreekBuild approached them intending to fund an entire house.”They surpassed all my expectations, really – the school year ended and they kept coming,” Donovan said of students who continued working on the house during the summer. “They helped with other houses and provided a level of leadership that wasn’t expected. They’ve truly partnered with us.”The student group also works closely with the families chosen by Habitat for Humanity Lake County to receive the house, said Ali Dvorak, a new GreekBuild co-chair.”It’s not a handout, it’s a hand-up,” the Communication junior said. She added that the beneficiary families are required to contribute 500 hours of “sweat equity,” meaning they have to participate in the building and attend Habitat for Humanity seminars.Jessica Alvarado and her 3-year-old son, Gianni Trevino, received GreekBuild’s first house. They will live in a neighborhood of Habitat for Humanity homes. Alvarado did not find out she was receiving the house until this August, meaning she could only work once at the build site. But she said she and her neighbors have still bonded over the work they have put into their homes.”I just think overall it’s a very positive experience,” Alvarado said. “(Habitat) brings a lot of positivity to your life and you don’t see that a lot. They touch lives.”In addition to “sweat equity,” the homeowners also have to pay a 30-year mortgage. Alvarado’s is $100,000, Dvorak said. Dvorak added that GreekBuild plans to work more closely with NU’s Habitat for Humanity chapter, which doesn’t sponsor a single site but helps build at several locations.Banis, whose initial concerns about the project were quickly laid to rest, said the project was a wonderful community-building activity for NU that brought together students from all the Greek chapters. “I’m so proud of them and so pleased they were able to pull it off,” he said. “Northwestern students never cease to amaze me with what they can do.”The group starts working on their next build site Saturday, Oct. 10 for beneficiaries Shelah Grashen and her 9-year-old son Asa. Donations can be made through their Web site,”We could do it, it is possible, and not only that, but we’re going to do it again,” Mattson said. “The biggest thing is that these people who have been working on it see it done. People are walking around and saying ‘I put up dry wall there.'”[email protected]