By Nina Alexander Hurst
More than 120 students picked up hammers, paint brushes and shovels for the groundbreaking on the Habitat for Humanity home that Hillel at the University of Florida has pledged to build from start to finish.
As part of the Million Minutes of Mitzvah program, a yearlong social action and community service program aimed at getting students and community members to volunteer their time, Hillel is raising $44,000 to pay for the home of long-term Gainesville couple Paul Cohen and Vivian Wallace.
Cohen and Wallace had already spent more than 200 hours working on other Habitat for Humanity homes before seeing their dream of becoming homeowners come true.
"We decided that we wanted to create a program that will have an immediate impact on the community," said Taal Hasak-Lowy, assistant director at UF Hillel. "Everyone working with us will see the results of all of their hard work when we complete an entire house, from start to finish, for a family to live in."
Senior Jorian Weiner said the best part about the Habitat program is that the family receiving the home works alongside volunteers.
"They are so thankful for what we are doing," Weiner said. "None of us had any housing experience, but we picked up hammers and are working together to get this done."
Weiner said she never usually volunteers, but she looks forward to helping out again with the ongoing project.
"It's such a great feeling," she said. "I definitely want to continue."
The Million Minutes of Mitzvah is a unique program consisting of community service and social activism projects including educational, long- and short-term volunteer projects and opportunities for advocacy and activism on a wide range of topics in an effort to reach more than 16,000 hours of mitzvot by the end of the school year.
The mitzvah project topics that students and community members will take on include literacy, homelessness, living wages, environmental issues and health issues.
Wearing T-shirts with the slogan "Got a minute?", Hillel staff passed out fliers with simple mitzvah projects for students to get involved with in the upcoming year.
Sophomore Samantha Brazer said "Got a Minute?" was the perfect slogan for the Million Minutes campaign.
"It just takes a minute of your time to make someone's life better," she said. "The flier was important because it made me realize every minute counts, and it's an important way stay aware of opportunities to help other people."
Million Minutes is under the umbrella of the University of Florida's Office of Community Service's 20 Million Minutes of Community Service. Students can also sign up and record their volunteer hours at www.ufhillel.org or at www.volunteergateway.org, and list Jewish Student Union as their service group.
"Our hope is to get students active in the community and excited about doing good deeds," Hasak-Lowy said. "We want them to start volunteering through our Million Minutes of Mitzvah program and then continue on with it in their own lives."
Nina Alexander Hurst is a student at the University of Florida.