Students who work together succeed together.
That message was put into practice on Saturday, Oct. 17, when more than 70 freshman from the UNO University Honors Program postponed their Fall Break to spend time giving back to the community.
From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., students provided assistance to the Council Bluffs Habitat for Humanity ReStore – a donation-based storefront that helps support the local Habitat for Humanity in building affordable homes for needy families.
The service married two UNO programs – the annual Three Days of Service volunteer program and the UNO University Honors Program’s new Common Reader pilot program.
Beginning this past summer, all of the new incoming honors students were given the same book to read; that book, “The Boys in the Boat,” details the story of the Washington University rowing team, a group of college students who won the Gold Medal at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.
On the Sunday before classes started, each of the students came together in small groups to discuss the book, the themes introduced throughout and how the experiences faced by the students from University of Washington could apply to their own upcoming college experiences.
“We wanted them to see that any fears or concerns they may have starting their college careers are not unique,” says Lucy Morrison, UNO University Honors Program director. “Not only are they being shared by their peers, but they exist generation to generation.”
Throughout the academic year, the honors students are scheduled to come together for team-building activities that tie back to themes discussed in the book. The work at Habitat ReStore was selected by the UNO University Honors Program for its link to Joseph Rantz, the lead figure in “The Boys in the Boat,” who lost his home the age of 12.
“Joe was abandoned by his father and left to fend for himself,” Morrison says. “Throughout the book you learn what it is like to make it on your own and so I wanted our students to have a hands on experience helping people in our own community who are experiencing the same things Joe was.”
Throughout the morning at Habitat ReStore, students did everything from dusting shelves to washing home siding to organizing items being sold by the store. Groups of students also helped Habitat ReStore, which had only just moved to its new location last year, canvas the neighborhood with fliers explaining that the store was now available for them to donate to or purchase from.
“It’s tremendous,” Tiffiny Clifton, director of volunteers, family and faith Relations for Habitat, told the Council Bluffs Daily Nonpareil. “With 75 students we can get 75 times more done than with just our regular staff.”
In addition to their work at ReStore, the UNO University Honors Program students have already taken in a UNO women's soccer game as a group and will be hearing from U.S. rower and Olympian Peter Zandbergen later on in the year. Other group events are also in the works and Morrison is already planning for the next incoming class and their Common Reader experience.
Morrison adds that other learning communities will likely join the Common Reader pilot program in the near future.
“Having a group to call your own and having that support system is key to being successful,” Morrison says. “That, more than anything, is the lesson these students can take away from this experience.”