Habitat for Humanity focuses on McComb-Veazey neighborhood

The sun tried to warm up students working to put the exterior trim on the hollow, wooden skeleton of what was soon to be a house in the muddy lot at 706 S. Magnolia St. in Lafayette’s McComb-Veazey neighborhood.

Of course, to the Concordia College students from Moorhead, Minn., who came to Lafayette to participate in Habitat for Humanity’s Collegiate Challenge program over spring break, Thursday’s sunny 45-degree weather must have been nice change.

“It’s really fun to come to a different area and help out people (who) need it,” said trip leader Nicole Berry, 22, of Mora, Minn.

“Meeting some of the homeowners that will be getting houses is really fun. Habitat is a really cool organization,” she said. “It doesn’t just give people a house, it helps them become more financially independent and be able to afford a house. It just cycles through and helps the next person.”

Berry, a communications major studying public relations, said this was her second trip with the Collegiate Challenge program. Her first was in Charlestown, S.C. She said she didn’t pass on any other spring break plans because this is where she wanted to be.

“I already had it in mind,” she said, her voice barely audible over the hammers, drills and nail guns blasting and whirring in the background. “They just assigned us a trip, but I had some say in where I was going. I said I really wanted to go to Louisiana or the Carolinas.”

Berry said she enjoyed the time spent working in Lafayette and her favorite experience so far had been a trip to Borden’s Ice Cream.

Joelle Boudreaux, director of volunteer services for Lafayette Habitat, said this house was one of four the students would be working on to help improve the McComb-Veazey neighborhood in north Lafayette.

“We were looking for a core area to focus on,” said Boudreaux. “(McComb-Veazey) already had a lot going for them. The neighborhood was getting together and trying to bring back their community. This is a section of Lafayette that residents forgot about as they moved onward and southward.

“People care about these communities,” she continued. “By us building in a subdivision, hopefully neighbors see that they can make a difference in their yards just by changing their garden or painting their home. We really want to see a domino effect happen.”

Boudreaux said workers from nine schools will participate in the Lafayette Collegiate Challenge this year.

Each group of students will stay for one week in housing around the neighborhood or dorms at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

She also said restaurants from around the area, including local favorites French Press, Judice Inn, T-Coon’s and Johnson’s Boucaniere, were helping out by donating food and allowing the busy visitors a taste of local flavor.

Asked why she thought the students chose to come to Lafayette over spring break, Boudreaux replied, “I have no idea.”

“It gets so cold up North they crawl down here,” laughed Justin Hernandez, construction director and Habitat staff member. “Half of their group (are) painting houses we have on Warren Street. We’re on the fourth of four. They’re doing some touch-up painting and finishing up installing cabinet trimming.”

Hernandez said it takes between 14 weeks and 16 weeks to build a house on a raised foundation, such as the one on South Magnolia Street.

He said this was the first of the seven-week Collegiate College program, adding this was one of the smaller weeks, having only 20 volunteers. The other weeks would have up to 43 volunteers every day.

“I enjoy building houses; that’s why I do it,” Hernandez said. “Our program’s unique. We get to work alongside the homeowners. They actually put in 300 hours on either their house or their neighbor’s house.”

Paul Veillon, 39, is one of the future homeowners who is receiving help from Habitat for Humanity.

He said, although his wife works and he receives disability, a house would have never been within his financial capabilities without assistance from Habitat for Humanity.

“I like it. I do,” said Veillon when asked if he enjoyed helping other needy families to get their own homes. “I love meeting new people. I can never pay these guys back for the work they do for guys that don’t have no chance of ever owning a house.”