House United partnership brings rival schools together to benefit Alabama communities

By Kevin Fichtner, Melissa Humble and Carol Nelson, Office of Communications and Marketing



Auburn University and University of Alabama students spent their spring break working together as part of the second House United project, assisting with the building of two Habitat for Humanity homes.

Students were in Baldwin County, Ala. from March 11 through 17 to take part in the project. Together, the schools started the program with Habitat for Humanity in 2011 to assist citizens of the state. Going beyond their football rivalry, students from the two institutions are collaborating to build homes for Alabama residents.

Ralph Foster, director of public service in Auburn University Outreach, met with Ron Anders from the state Habitat for Humanity office, which is headquartered in Auburn, a couple of years ago to discuss how the university and Habitat could work together in new ways; Auburn students already participate in Habitat projects all over the country, but the two wanted to build on that relationship. Foster's office reached out to colleagues at the University of Alabama Community Service Center to see how they could work together, which is how House United was formed.

"You know how there are those famous posters that you see at game time about ‘House Divided,' where one spouse is a Tide fan and the other spouse is an Auburn fan? We came up with the idea of ‘House United,' where everybody can work together," Foster explained.

"I feel that both universities have a responsibility to help improve the quality of life for Alabama citizens," said Joyce Thomas-Vinson, one of the project coordinators and program administrator of student engagement and service learning in the Auburn University Office of Public Service. "Additionally, we have a responsibility to educate our students even beyond the classroom. This project allows us to move toward both of those goals. The fact that it is a joint build between these two traditional rivals is also important in that it allows us to work together on a very meaningful project."

The first House United build was scheduled to take place in Baldwin County last year. After the devastating tornadoes in Tuscaloosa in April, the decision was made by both schools to move the build to Tuscaloosa. In July, students from both institutions came together to work on houses for two families in the Holt Community in Tuscaloosa County. The project was a great success, with more than 40 Auburn men and women, including faculty, staff, students, family members and alumni, volunteering their time to help the cause.

This year, a group of 39 made the trip to Baldwin County for the House United build. Students from Auburn's Alternative Spring Break group also collaborated with the Office of Public Service for the project.

"It's a great experience for students to have a chance to work together as we're two institutions who are rivals most of the year, but it's great to have a chance to come together to learn about each other," Foster said. "More importantly, it's about learning about our community, what the needs of our community are, and what people need in terms of safe, dependable housing. Habitat stands for meeting those needs and it's a great way for Auburn to work with a great community partner."

Students from both schools said they chose to join the project because they think it is important to work together to help others.

"We're not really ‘Auburn fans' or ‘Alabama fans' right now," said Auburn University sophomore Molly McGowan. "Although we have a rivalry, I think it's important for us to be able to show that we can always come together as one to work together as a team to help give back. We get to do something for people that not everyone else gets to do not everyone can say that they have been able to build houses for two families. That's just so rewarding."

"Sometimes it's all about competition and football, but it's important for us to come together to work to make people's lives better," said University of Alabama junior Olivia Johnson. "It's not just the two schools, but the whole state of Alabama is like that. After the tornadoes, everybody came together and it didn't matter where you were from, what city, what school you go for. Auburn came through for Tuscaloosa, so I think it's important for us to get together and try to do something for other people who've been through similar things."

Foster said that the experience is meaningful to him both as an Alabamian and career outreach worker.

"Personally, as a lifelong resident of Alabama, I'm concerned about the needs of our community. That's what university outreach is all about," Foster said. "It's the university extending its resources out to the community to better the quality of life for all citizens in our state."

Last Updated: March 19, 2012

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