Building community in Sisters
Last updated 3/16/2022 at Noon
An annual rite of spring has returned to Sisters. A contingent of students from Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, spent a week working with Sisters Habitat for Humanity at job sites in Sisters last week.
Such exercises in volunteerism and community-building were a regular feature of Sisters Habitat’s year, but they were cut off in March 2020 due to COVID-19.
“This is the first group back, and it happens to be the same great college,” said Christine Carriger, who manages Sisters Habitat for Humanity’s Restore.
The spring break Collegiate Challenge fits into Gonzaga’s broader effort in community engagement.
Tiffany Picotte, program manager for the university’s Center for Community Engagement explained the mission.
“The mission of the office is first to bring students into community,” she said. “We really like to go to cities, communities that are very different from Spokane.”
Engagement missions are generally built around a social issue, like housing, the environment, or food security. The collegiate challenge fits both an education model and a service model of community engagement, Picotte said.
“This kind of falls in both camps, because I think a lot of education took place on this trip,” she said. “I think a lot of conversation has been around affordability and what’s happening with the [housing] market.”
And there’s hands-on, practical education, too. Students learn how to use tools and do basic construction — many of them for the first time.
The students — who range from engineering students to sociology majors — raised walls for an under-construction home in ClearPine and built access ramps at another home in Sage Meadow.
“It gives us an opportunity to work on projects we wouldn’t have been able to get around to,” Carriger noted.
The students were able to gain insight into the importance and value of the work, attending a dedication of a new Habitat home on Cedar Street.
The wider Sisters community pitches in to make these engagements possible.
Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church puts the students up during their stay, and Sisters Park & Recreation District offered shower facilities. Volunteers put together lunches.
It wasn’t all work and no play. The students went hiking and spent time exploring downtown Sisters.
“I want them to have as full an experience as they can,” said Picotte.
In the end, the actual work accomplished is only a portion of the value gained in the experience, Picotte noted. Students bond, gain insight into life beyond their campus, and learn practical skills. It really is about engagement.
“It’s not all about building a house,” Picotte said. “The connection — it’s huge.”