This article was originally published on nphawks.com.

Seasonal breaks are a time for students to relax and not think about the heavy workload they left at college. Many may travel down south to enjoy the nice weather and beaches.

Five members of the State University of New York at New Paltz field hockey team went to Florida over the past winter break, but not to enjoy the sunshine.

Through an organization called Habitat For Humanity, senior Erin Landy, juniors Megan Gangewere, Hayley Kim, and Justine O’Reilly¬†and freshman Kaitlyn Gunter¬†went to New Smyrna Beach, Florida to help build a house that a family will stay in once construction is complete.

Kim discovered the volunteer opportunity and the Collegiate Challenge program that Habitat For Humanity offered and asked her teammates on a bus ride if any of them would be interested in participating.

“I needed volunteer hours for graduate school,” Kim said. “That was my first motivating factor and after that, I was just really excited to go down and help build some houses. ”

Landy decided to go because “it sounded like a cool volunteer trip,” but described the experience for her and her teammates as “a lot more rewarding than we thought it was going to be.”

Gangewere wanted to participate since “it was a different opportunity than something local and it was hands on.” O’Reilly was interested as soon as she heard about the opportunity on the bus.

Gunter was looking for volunteer opportunities on her own and decided to partake in Habitat For Humanity because it “sounded fun and [she] wanted to build stuff.”

Although their time was shortened due to a series of flight cancellations and delays, the Hawks stayed in New Smyrna Beach from Jan. 10-18.

Prior to the trip, none of the Hawks had any building experience. In fact, of all the tools the group would utilize during their time volunteering only Gangewere, who is a mechanical engineering major, had any practice with them.

“I was familiar with most of the tools from classes I’ve taken, but I never had prior on site building experience,” Gangewere said.

The house is being built in a community where a number of other houses were already under construction or are completed. The Hawks worked on the house for about six hours each day they were down there.

When they first arrived, there was just plywood and support beams standing where the house would be. By the time they left, exterior walls were completed on all four sides of the house, as well as the first wall of the garage.

While there the Hawks also reinforced the support beams with hurricane strips, put up trusses for the roof, worked on the interior walls and hammered in a nail every four inches in every piece of wood in the house. The project manager would come by and check in on the construction, and he frequently asked the Hawks to redo some of the work they had completed in order to pass a scheduled inspection.

“He was very strict and everything needed to be perfect,” Landy said. “[The houses] are quality and better than other houses that construction companies build.”

“We would almost put something up and [the project manager] would run over and say ‘Nope! You have to do one more thing.’ It was the smallest thing, but if we didn’t do it we wouldn’t pass the inspection,” O’Reilly added. “We had to go around and check every wall, one day we did so five times. [The project manager] told us after the inspection that it went perfectly and we passed no problem. We all felt really accomplished.”

The finished project will feature a one-story house with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen as well as a full garage. The house will be completed by other volunteers over the next few months and will be the home of a family that will join dozens of other families already living in the community.

While there were regular volunteers who came by and helped out on certain days, there were plenty of instances where it was just the Hawks working on the house.

During these days, each student-athlete fell into an unofficial role in order to be as efficient as possible, a strategy the Hawks credited to their experience from working as a team on the field.

“We had to work together to put the plywood for the walls up,” Gunter said. “We needed at least three people and we had to be careful to not drop it on each other’s fingers. But once we got the hang of it, it was pretty easy.”

“We had a system going where three people would get the plywood, one person had the nail gun and another person would be behind hammering in any nails that needed to be in more,” Landy added. “It’s funny because we just kind of automatically assign roles. It just happens naturally for us.”

After a hard day of work, the Hawks would spend their free time going on adventures that included activities such as visiting national parks and kayaking.

“Every day we had something to do,” O’Reilly said. “We were never just sitting at the house.”

Gunter noted that both building the house and going on adventures with her teammates was a great bonding experience.

“You spend a lot of time together and it makes the relationships stronger,” she said. “You’re around each other 24/7, so you have to like each other by the end of it.”

When asked if they would consider volunteering for Habitat For Humanity again, each of the Hawks immediately expressed interest in reliving the experience.

“We’ve already talked about going back down there,” Gangewere said. “Everyone was so nice and welcoming and are just genuine people that care about what they’re doing. We saw how much they were excited about this program and everything that they’re working towards.”

Kim highly recommends the program for teams as a way to grow closer and work together.

“I think it’s such a great team bonding experience,” she said. “Spending a week with your team and building houses; it’s the ultimate way of communicating and growing as a team.”

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