Giving the gift of service

By Maddy Baxter

 

At the beginning of his sophomore year, Jason Mohr ’11 decided to approach the administration to start a Habitat for Humanity chapter.

Mohr said he was especially interested in community service organizations that help people help themselves.

So after a year of coordination with Father J. Young and Director of Student Affairs Jordan Church, the Habitat chapter was created with former history teacher Leslie Rockenbach as the adviser.

Habitat for Humanity is a non-profit organization that builds houses for those who cannot afford them.

However, the families must help to build their houses alongside volunteers as well as put in a certain number of extra hours of service in order to qualify for a house.

Previously, Mohr had volunteered at a Habitat for Humanity build site a couple of times.

“I met and developed life-long relationships with amazing families that put my life in perspective. I had to share this amazing experience,” he said.

He wanted to get more involved, and through an Internet search he learned that he could create a “Chapter” at his school.

He then called the Habitat affiliate for the Los Angeles area and was informed on how to do so.

After the chapter was started, Mohr chose board members Melanie Borinstein ’11, Cami de Ry ’12 and Jordan Gavens ’12.

They have helped organize events, recruit volunteers, and advocate to the community. This year, science teacher Krista McClain has taken over as the new adviser for the chapter.

Kristina Park ’13 and Lauren Schlussel ‘13 have joined the board this year, helping to make posters around campus and the North Hollywood area.

Besides the five person executive board, there is also a core group of 30 members and about 150 consistent volunteers.

“Once students volunteer, they develop the passion and enthusiasm to come back again and again,” Mohr said.

The Habitat for Humanity chapter has held 10 events so far, including helping to build homes, holiday events with children, English as a Second Language classes, homework help and tutoring, welcoming families into their homes, and walk-a-thons through the streets of the local Habitat communities.

“We focus on building a better community, both among the families in the build site and among those families and students,” he said.

The chapter’s goal for its first full year is to host at least one or two events a month.

A new ESL program has been implemented this year that allows students to use their Spanish skills to help teach English to Spanish speaking families.

“I love using the exercises that I was taught at Harvard-Westlake to learn Spanish in order to help teach English,” he said.

This is a helpful way to break language barriers and bond with the grandparents of the families.

“We develop relationships with these families, begin to understand them and they begin to teach us as much if not more than we ever teach them,” he said.

Mohr said that it makes students feel better about themselves to put some of their competitive energy in school into helping others. They may be surprised at the impact that they can make improving others’ lives, he said.