By Madoline Markham
Since 2004, the Habitat for Humanity Club at Vestavia Hills High School has raised $25,000 a year for a Habitat house and been a part of the team that builds the house they fund in partnership with Vestavia Hills United Methodist Church. But last year their mission became even bigger, with a desire to build community around them and encourage others to do small things with great love. You might have seen their Love Your Neighbor T-shirts and yard signs around, but there’s a lot more to it too.
To learn more about the club’s new mission and how they live it out, we chatted with Vice President Jamie Casey, President Rebecca Berry, Vice President Emeritus Molly Steur and President Emeritus Nathaniel Bass just after this year’s Love Your Neighbor Week.
Why did you decide to join the Habitat for Humanity club?
Nathaniel: My sister was president emeritus my freshman year, so I was forced into it. I fell in love with the club and was chaplain my sophomore year. The relationships we build with one another on build days are so much fun.
Jamie: My dad did Habitat when I was younger on Saturdays, so I have always wanted to join it in high school.
Rebecca: I like dong volunteer stuff, and I thought it would be a good way to meet new people and build stronger bonds with my friends.
Molly: I felt called to do something in a club, and I signed up for it and went to a build and fell I love with it.
Where did the idea for Love Your Neighbor Week come from?
Molly: In the summer of 2020, we were looking at fundraising opportunities. In the past we fundraised through the homecoming dance, but with COVID restrictions we couldn’t put it on.
Nathaniel: We wanted to raise the money we need and also pour back into the community. Our mission statement is to be faithful community stewards by serving others and doing small things with great love, and Love Your Neighbor Week is the embodiment of our mission. It’s our opportunity to reinvest in our community. Our club has always had a huge focus on raising money and building a home, but now we pair community building with fundraising. We also wanted to buy 937 employees of Vestavia City Schools a box lunch from Chick-fil-A because we recognize that if we are generous people will be generous with us.
What did the week look like that first year?
Molly: We didn’t have a centralized event because of COVID. We sold T-shirts in three colors and yard signs, and we had spirit nights at local restaurants where they gave us a portion of their funds and we encouraged people to patronize local businesses. We had some church groups go to elementary schools and cover the sidewalks in chalk with positive messages. We gave food and gift cards to first responders with notes from youth groups. We sold flower bombs, which are flower arrangements by local florist Flower Betty. We encouraged people to buy them for their neighbors and spread joy that way. The community really responded to our mission that week in ways we never thought they would.
And what about this year?
Rebecca: For this year we edited the days a little. We had Favorite Restaurants Night and Favorite Business Night where we encouraged people to shop local and eat local. We had Love Your Schools Day to show how much we appreciate our teachers, our janitors, our lunch staff, everyone. The community bought Chick-fil-A lunches for all of them. Our average donation was $8, and we had over 150 individual donations form people across the community to chip in to buy teamers lunch.
Jamie: We got a proclamation from Mayor Ashley Curry for Love Your Neighbor Week too.
What was this year’s inaugural concert like?
Rebecca: For our Love Your Neighbor Concert, we had student bands perform at Wald Park and had food trucks and inflatables, and we invited the community to come. So many people came, and that was really inspiring. We had upwards of 600 people. We had the a cappella group called Just Singing and a Michael Jackson/Queen impersonator called Terry Killit, a DJ from the middle school named DJ Midnight. We also had a brass band called Hill Street Bass who are members of the marching band, and we had a two-person rock band called the Silos who closed for us and who was amazing. They all did such a good job. Flower Betty was giving out free roses and a had a flower arch where you could take pictures.
What memories stand out from the week?
Nathaniel: We would deliver flower bombs last year in the pouring rain. We’d knock on doors and run.
Molly: The night of the concert I found myself alone at some point, and stood back and was watching 200 kids listening to music and kids running around and parents enjoying themselves. I loved it. That was my favorite moment, and the sun was setting too.
Nathaniel: We raised $6,000 just that night and $15,000 during Love Your Neighbor Week. The financial part is important, but the community engagement is more rewarding than anything else.
And you followed up with a homecoming dance returning this year too?
Nathaniel: We are in charge of the homecoming dance, and we had it at Wald Park this year.
Molly: Our theme was Starry Night, and we setup twinkle lights.
Rebecca: We wanted people to come and have fun.
What’s new on the horizon for the club?
Nathaniel: We are starting to partner with Christian Service Mission, and their mission is to connect resources with needs. We will provide new opportunities for club members to go work at their warehouse. We are talking about the opportunity to teach our students how to interact with the people we are helping and how to build a connection with them. This year we are looking at inviting other organizations to join us for builds. It’s awesome team building.
Let’s talk about the Habitat for Humanity builds. What are those like?
Molly: Builds are really fun. We usually have a bus from Vestavia Hills United Methodist, and we all show up at the build site 8 a.m.-3 pm on a Saturday. The build directors go over safety, and then we pray over our build. We split into groups from there, and they instruct us on what we need to do. You don’t have to have any prior constructions skills, and you learn a lot of new skills. It takes us three months, from the last Saturday of January through mid-April typically.
What stands out about those days?
Molly: The cool thing about a Habitat build is sometimes you don’t know what you will be doing until you show up. You could be building the floors of a house.
Nathaniel: My favorite build is where we raise the walls with the family we are building it for. There is nothing like it. That’s what gets our students so engaged with it.
Molly: It’s such a visually gratifying build because you start with a square in the ground, and by the end of it, it looks like a house shape.
Rebecca: Builds are a good way to meet new people and make friends. I know I have met a lot of my close friends through Habitat.
Nathaniel: There are so many photos I look back at and see people I didn’t know at the beginning of a day that now I say hi to in the hallways at school.
What have you learned about Habitat for Humanity as a larger organization?
Nathaniel: We can see the need for affordable, safe housing and for a home. Our club started in 2004, and every year we have built a home for a single mother and her family. We like getting to meet with them and ask them what their prayer requests are. Last year we got Sharpies and wrote on the studs of the walls our prayers for the home and our favorite verses, and that was really cool. We got to bless that home from the ground up.