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Group photo of student volunteers posing in front of the Habitat for Humanity house.

Strengthening our Partnership with Habitat for Humanity

Since 1997, University Housing has partnered with Habitat for Humanity to build homes in the Knoxville community. This year marks the completion of 18 houses since the partnership first began.

Engagement Manager Trinity Edgar and Chief Development Officer Angie Hatcher Sledge, at Habitat for Humanity in Knoxville, explained that the gift of returning partners is incredibly comforting and adds stability to Habitat for Humanity and the families who will live in the homes. The first house of each new year begins construction in February, and that house plan is set aside for UT.

“It’s so comforting to know that the first house we build and fundraise for the year is already taken care of by this partnership,” said Edgar. “We have such an appreciation for our strong partnership with the university and University Housing.”

“The average Habitat for Humanity home costs $175,000 to build,” said Jerry Adams, director of Residence Life. “The University Housing portion for a new house is $55,000. No family pays more than 28 percent of their income for a new home. The remaining balance is gap funding and comes from a variety of sources that Knoxville Habitat for Humanity oversees.”

University Housing works with Resident Assistants (RAs) to fundraise and organize volunteers to help with the construction of the house throughout the year, typically accounting for more than half of the $55,000 needed. RAs raised more than $12,555 in the 2021–22 academic year through fundraisers. The gap is closed by a UT professor and their spouse, who choose to remain anonymous, and are committed to Habitat for Humanity and the student learning opportunity it creates.

Adams explained that each year, RAs host various events for students as fundraisers such as haunted houses, escape rooms, boo-grams at Halloween, and candy-grams on Valentine’s Day. Other fundraisers include:

  • Printed and sold hall t-shirts
  • A petting zoo sponsored by Magnolia and Dogwood Halls
  • Penny wars
  • Pie Your RA program
  • Hotel Brown allowed students to place food orders to be delivered to their rooms by RAs
  • Hall-wide video game tournaments

$12,555 were raised by RAs in 2021–22 through fundraisers.

“We’ve been really fortunate to partner with Habitat for Humanity to fundraise and build a house for a Knoxville community member,” said Adams. “We really see this as a hand-up, not a hand-out, for someone in our community and we’re happy to have this partnership.”

In addition to fundraising, University Housing assists with organizing volunteers to help with the construction of the house. UT students, faculty, and staff put up walls, frames, decks, and assist with roofing, siding, painting, and installing cabinets and trims.

“We will have students from across campus sign up to volunteer to help build,” continued Adams. “We have our RAs, students from Greek-letter organizations, just a lot of overall campus participation in building these houses.”

Edgar and Hatcher Sledge also expressed the educational component that student volunteers experience during the time on the build. In addition to learning skills related to building a house, volunteers are also learning how to work on a team, how to lead, and learn about the impact that their work can have on families and the community.

“When we’re meeting with students before and during the build, we are able to educate students on our mission of creating affordable housing and the impact affordable housing can have on a family,” said Edgar and Hatcher Sledge. “The fact that we can educate students about the importance of affordable housing and issues in the community allows them to be better advocates.”

Citing Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Edgar and Hatcher Sledge make it a point to explain that having basic needs met, such as stable and affordable housing, allows Knoxville families to focus on furthering their education and careers, and experience improvements in their health, physical safety, and security. According to a Habitat report, more than 90 percent of Knoxville Habitat families report feeling better about their future, and their children’s future, than they did before completing the education program and becoming homeowners.

University Housing and the RAs involved have and will continue to make important contributions to the Knoxville community through Habitat for Humanity. This partnership provides opportunities for students to engage with the community, have meaningful and educational experiences, and live out what it means to be a Volunteer.