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Building Community

Caroline Purtell

On a chilly, gray Saturday morning, Katrina Mahlerwein gets up at 7:00 a.m., pulls her long, brunette hair into a ponytail and slips on two layers of clothing before driving across campus to Bellarmine Circle. There, she meets a group of students who are carpooling to a construction site 15 minutes away.

“Layers are good because I’ve found that you don’t want to get into your car with mud caked all over you when you’re finished building,” says Mahlerwein, who keeps a trash bag in the trunk for dirty cast-offs.

The group is up early on this Saturday to go to a nearby neighborhood where they are building a Habitat for Humanity home. Although members of Xavier’s Habitat chapter have helped construct a number of homes in recent years, this is the first fully funded, student-built house since the 1998-1999 academic year. And to prove their mettle, the students raised more than $20,000 through a number of fund-raisers, including a rake-a-thon, cornhole tournament and raffle. They also partnered with Millcreek Valley Habitat for Humanity and Ursuline Academy, who helped cover the remaining costs.

Once at the site, each of the students creates a nametag with duct tape and a permanent marker and goes over the day’s tasks. Soon the 50 or so volunteers disperse to tackle windows, insulation or roofing. The house, which they completed in May, is now home to a woman and her young, wheelchair-bound son who requires a ramp, and wider doors and showers.

Mahlerwein, who graduated in May, says being able to build a house from foundation to finish exposed her to a diversity of opinions and ideas. “I can’t think of a better example of putting Xavier’s mission into practice,” she says. “You’re building relationships and you’re building community.”

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