For the 12th year, HNU students traveled with faculty and staff to Tutwiler, Mississippi, to work with Habitat for Humanity to build a home for a community resident. About 39 percent of Tutwiler’s population lives below the poverty line. Most residents of Tutwiler do not have easy access to educational facilities, employment opportunities, and health care.
The annual Tutwiler trip is coordinated through HNU’s Center for Social Justice and Civic Engagement (CSJCE). As a part of the trip, students also visited several civil rights landmarks throughout the South, including the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. The students also spent time at the Tutwiler Clinic, founded in 1983 by Sister Anne Brooks in Tutwiler, Mississippi, to provide care to local patients; the Jonestown Family Center for Education and Wellness in Jonestown, Mississippi; and the Durocher Service Development Program, a volunteer service organization founded by Sister Kay Burton in Jonestown, Mississippi.
The 12 participants—which included Sister Sophia Park, PhD, Javier De Paz, assistant director of the CSJCE, graduate assistant Yadira Muñoz, and nine HNU students—contributed approximately 250 total hours of service to the Habitat for Humanity project.
In a presentation on March 30, the students who participated in the trip spoke about their experiences and what they learned while working in Tutwiler.
“When we first went to Tutwiler, we thought we were going to make a big impact on the community,” Anthony Do, an HNU sophomore and sociology major, said. “But in actuality, it’s the opposite—the community had a big impact on us.”
Spencer Marks, an HNU freshman who majors in biology, spoke about one of the most important lessons that he and the other students learned during the trip. “Not only did we learn some new skills in construction, but we also learned how to build a home wherever we go. We learned that no matter where you go, or who you’re with, with a little bit of effort, and work, and sacrifice, you can create a home, which builds a family and which builds success.”
In her moving final remarks, Kali Taeleifi, a senior English major, spoke about the lasting impact of the work that she and the others had done in Tutwiler. “All we felt out there was love. There was so much pain and so much hurt there, but I couldn’t figure out how I could only feel love,” she said. “I think that’s what we learned, is that we need to take it further. It stinks that we only got a week there [in Tutwiler], and I wish I could’ve impacted their lives more than my life was impacted, so hopefully I can go out and do something, hopefully we all go out and do something.”