Benedictine University students come to Lake County to assist with Houses to Homes

LAKE COUNTY — Because Habitat for Humanity was forced to put several of its Lake County projects on hold due to recent changes to loan distribution, several other groups have had to pick up the slack. One such effort was by a group of students who traveled all the way from Benedictine University in Lisle, Ill., near Chicago.

Led by their teacher, Beth Vinkler, the group arrived on May 10 and left May 15. While in Lake County, the students painted walls, patched roofs and took on a large number of projects to help repair the homes of several residents who are in need. Their work was part of the Lake County community's "Houses to Homes" initiative, formed this year. Its goal is to help repair and maintain homes to help residents who cannot afford to make the repairs themselves.

Vinkler said the students were looking for a service program when she found out about some opportunities in Lake County thanks to some personal connections here.

"I have a cabin up here I've been going to for several years," said Vinkler. "I was thinking about a service trip for the students and I was talking with Father Schneider. He told us about Houses to Homes, and pointed us toward houses that needed work."

The six students who came to Lake County are all members of the school's scholars program. Each said they found the trip positive, informative and helpful in their development as future leaders.

"One thing I took away is the optimism and hope of the community," said student Ryan Sample. "People still try to inspire each other and that's something we can take back to Chicago with us."

As honor students, Vinkler said they need to learn how to connect and help others as well as how to get their hands dirty. The students seemed to be taking these lessons to heart.

"We plan to come back up here next year," said student Ali Jafri. "Projects like this help us learn how to be more effective leaders and see how people need help."

Vinkler liked the idea of bringing her students to Lake County because the community has a legitimate need for help and multiple projects to work on. It's also close enough to Chicago has enough local amenities to keep the costs of the trip to a minimum.

"We're a small school and we don't have a lot of resources," explained Vinkler. "Habitat has the volunteer house here so we don't have to pay for lodging. We don't need to raise as many resources on our own to be able to go somewhere to help."

Seeing the need in a middle of a Midwestern state, within driving distance of larger cities like Grand Rapids or Traverse City, was eye-opening to the students. Several said it changed the way they looked at providing help to others.

"The nearest hospital is in Reed City and we're going into medicine," said Jafri. "I was looking for schools who would send doctors to other countries with little medical resources, but this trip goes to show there is a need right here."

Despite being a Catholic university, the school has a large Muslim population which was reflected in the students who came to Lake County. Three of the six are Muslim and they said they found the experience enlightening.

"Being up here changed my outlook a little by going to a place where I was a true minority," said student Nasiha Asadullah.

The exposure to different backgrounds may have had a positive effect on some of the residents here as well.

"It's great to see how people of different faiths are welcomed here," said Maham Ahmed, another Muslim student on the trip. "We met one person who said he had been prejudiced against our faith, but meeting us has changed his outlook."

Vinkler called the trip a great success and said she thought they were able to do a lot of good in the area. She said she hopes to return next year with a larger group of students to expand on their progress.

"I look at this group as a sort of pilot program," said Vinkler. "We're hoping to come back in future years and have this be the start of an ongoing program at the school."