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South Quad ‘Shack City’ benefits children

Rohan Anand | Monday, April 23, 2007

Students walking along South Quad Saturday evening may have noticed cardboard boxes scattered along the lawn, triggering nostalgic memories of childhood forts and tunnels.

But far from child’s play, the cardboard huts this weekend were a conscious reminder of the millions of underprivileged children that are forced to live on the street in similar boxes.

The display, known as Shack City, is an annual event organized by Notre Dame’s Habitat for Humanity chapter each spring.

“Shack City is a night of raising awareness about the substandard housing conditions of the world,” said senior Ryan Iafigliola, who began the event his freshman year. “We invite the general public to participate and assist us in raising funds, and this year we gained over $2,000 in sponsorship.”

Focusing on children in poverty, the Habitat team invited speakers and showed a documentary to portray the growing problem of homeless children.

“Habitat’s mission is to provide affordable housing for all people, and we wanted to focus on children and how they are affected by homelessness,” said sophomore Erica Sanchez, who organized the event this year. “Poverty housing is the main issue of Habitat and empowering people toward that end is the main focus of our organization.”

Guest speakers included Vice President for University relations Lou Nanni, who once served as the director for the South Bend Center for the Homeless, and Beth Morlock, a representative from the Hope Rescue Mission homeless shelter.

Additionally, participants viewed an educational video – “My Own Four Walls,” a documentary produced by Diane Nealon that showed interviews with homeless children across the country.

“It was really stunning,” Iafigliola said. “To think about how substandard housing is such a largely ignored issue on college campuses, since we don’t have to worry about where we’re going to live each night.”

Iafigliola made a reference to one homeless student, depicted in the documentary, who earned a college degree while living on a park bench.

“When he had finally received his diploma, he simply returned to the bench and realized he had nobody to celebrate with,” he said. “So our hope wasn’t to try and pretend like we were being homeless, but by using the boxes, speakers, statistics, etc. – we’re bringing consciousness to the situation.”

Approximately 125 students attended the event Saturday, and about 100 of them volunteered to construct their own cardboard homes and spend the night sleeping out on South quad.

“We provided students with duct tape and scraps of cardboard and just let them use their imagination,” Sanchez said. “We were really fortunate to have nice weather, because that allowed more people to come, ask questions, and leave with a better understanding about the situation. Overall, it was fun – but in a serious way.”