600 UA volunteers fight poverty

By Djamila Grossman
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, October 10, 2005

About 600 UA members volunteered their time Saturday with shovel and hammer to build up houses in a low-income area in midtown Tucson.

In three projects in the Balboa Heights neighborhood, an area east of North Oracle Road and East Glenn Street, the Marty Birdman Neighborhood Center, Nash Elementary School and 10 houses were being worked on throughout the day. The efforts were part of the Day of Caring annual project, organized by United Way, a national organization dedicated to improving living conditions of low-income families and people.

Pat Stevens, UA campus representative for United Way in Tucson, said there were 2,600 volunteers working throughout the community, with the UA providing 600 of them.

"UA has taken this leading role," Stevens said. "It's a real partnership and the UA is a great company to work with. I'm very proud of the whole thing."

To increase the amount of good that could be done, UA officials contacted Habitat for Humanity, a Christian nonprofit housing ministry trying to eliminate homelessness by working on housing projects throughout the city, to take part in the project. Most of the volunteers were directed under the Habitat for Humanity project to build 10 houses for low-income families. Glory Novak, director for finance and administration at human resources, said she has been co-chairing the UA day of caring committee for the past five years.

"As large as the UA is, there are not many opportunities for all to work together. UA and Tucson residents are coming together," Novak said. "That's what gets us jazzed up about it."

At 9 a.m., Novak told people at the Habitat for Humanity site where to work, when to get breakfast, who to talk to and how to get ice to keep the drinking water cool after 1,000 pounds of ice had been slowly melting in the morning sun.

Students, staffers and faculty worked hand in hand, including Judith Leonard, vice president for legal affairs, and Michael Cusanovich, director of the Arizona Research laboratories.

"The first year we had 75 people and we were so excited. Today over 500 and more wanted to do it," Novak said. "The goal is to step back and say we made a difference."

Sorberder Coronado, a mother of two, came to visit her future home just as the first shift was working on the houses.

"There is a lot of emotion, I feel really great about (the project)," Coronado said with a smile. "The workers' help here is incredible."

Habitat for Humanity Tucson has been in the city for 25 years, and the organization has built about 40 homes for low-income families, said Executive Director Michael McDonald. Currently 25 percent of Tucson residents live in poverty, he added.

"Our job is to make a difference. We try to reach out and touch people's hearts and try to work together," McDonald said.

Habitat for Humanity is the builder and lender of the houses, with zero-interest mortgage rates for the families who also have to work 200 to 400 hours on the house themselves and have to make a down payment, McDonald said.

"We try to get people into safe, decent housing," McDonald said. "(They) are starting the American dream; it's going to be their lifelong home."

The current land was donated by the City of

Tucson and is in a low-income area that used to have a lot of crime but is improving, McDonald said.

Many of the families are immigrants, and 60 percent are of Hispanic origin. They are all "motivated to succeed and break the cycle of poverty," McDonald said. The cooperation between the UA and Habitat for Humanity is especially important because there is a connection between higher education and opportunities to break free from poverty, McDonald said.

"It's an opportunity for the UA to display its neighborliness and to give back to the community," McDonald said. "At the end of the day you've worked hard and you've made a difference for people."

A house takes eight to 10 months to finish but the volunteers' work help speed up the process.

"We'll get through a lot today, that's tremendous," McDonald said.

Lindsay Lee, a nursing junior, said she came with a group from the Financial Services Office because it is for a good cause and lots of fun.

"It always warms your heart to do something for a good cause," Lee said. "For the UA giving back to the community is exactly what Tucson needs."