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ND Habitat members spring into action

Katie Wagner | Friday, April 15, 2005

Whether they’re slamming a volleyball into the mud, sleeping in a cardboard box or painting a house, Notre Dame students are living out Habitat for Humanity’s “Act! Speak! Build!” advocacy week.

The highlight of this week is “Shack City,” a gathering of over 100 students on South Quad Saturday night. The event involves students spending the night sleeping in large cardboard boxes in order to increase awareness of the issue of substandard housing, as well as to raise money for the Notre Dame chapter of Habitat for Humanity’s house. Also, 10 percent of the proceeds will be donated to the Puebla, Mexico chapter of Habitat.

“We’re recognizing that some people in America really do live this way,” said senior Colin Dowdell, a co-president of Notre Dame’s chapter of Habitat. “We’re not trying to imitate or mock them.”

Students will be writing facts about poverty and substandard housing on the boxes to further contribute to this visual “reminder that there’s a larger need in the world,” sophomore and Shack City planning team leader Ryan Iafigliola said.

“This year we have a lot more depth to the actual activity,” he said. “We have a larger planning team and better organization.”

Registration and setup for the night will occur between 5 p.m. and 8, followed by an opening prayer and guest speakers Cara Lowe, volunteer coordinator at the Center for the Homeless, and actual guests at the Center. The speeches, Iafigliola said, are “the highlight of the evening,” because students come to a better understanding of the day-to-day plight of homeless people. A band performance and marshmallow roast will round out the event.

“When you see people in boxes, maybe it will make you think back to the actual substandard living, the actual shacks of the world,” Iafigliola said. “We want people to notice it and maybe stop by … even if you’re not staying out, to come out for the speaker.”

Iafigliola proposed the idea of having “Shack City” at Note Dame last year to Habitat’s board after attending Valparaiso University’s version of the event. Although it took Iafigliola several months to convince the board to carry it out, “Shack City” has now become a major event for Notre Dame’s Habitat.

“Last year we were surprised about how successful it was,” said Knott senior Pete Mahoney, a co-president of Habitat at Notre Dame. “Obviously, we’d like to do better than last year.”

“One of the differences is that this year we are trying to expand it into a weeklong thing,” Iafigliola said.

While last year’s “Shack City” was an independent event, this year’s organizers made it part of the Habitat for Humanity week of advocacy called “Act! Speak! Build! Week.”

The week began this Monday, included a Wednesday session for students to write letters to U.S. senators and will conclude on Sunday with a mud volleyball tournament.

Another big event set for this weekend is the completion of the landscaping on Notre Dame students’ Habitat house on Lyndon Street and Meade Street, the group’s 11th house.

Notre Dame’s group is an affiliate of Habitat for Humanity for St. Joseph County. Dowdell said that his chapter gets some funding from the University and some from the Habitat for Humanity Neighborhood Assistance Grant.

The chapter’s other money comes from the fundraising that it does throughout the year. “Mud volleyball is a huge fundraiser for us,” Dowdell said of the tournament, which has raised $7,500 this year. “Next year I think that we are going to see a lot smaller fundraisers on campus.”