By John Riemer
Athletic Communications Intern

WILMINGTON, North Carolina- Students at UNCW enjoy comfortable living accommodations on campus and in the surrounding area, while many aspiring home owners in the Cape Fear Region struggle to find suitable homes for their families.

The Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) hopes to build a stronger relationship in the community by continuing to encourage student-athletes to volunteer with Cape Fear Habitat for Humanity.

Since becoming chancellor in 2012, Gary Miller has stressed the importance of building mutually beneficial partnerships and positive relationships in the community. Last year, UNCW engaged in more than 178,555 hours of service through 714 documented partnerships.

DN Cherry, a senior on the women’s track and field team, is the Community Service Chair for SAAC and began volunteering for Habitat several years ago. She proposed the idea of UNCW student-athletes serving as the primary builders of a Habitat house.

“Volunteering was fun, but it was kind of an eye opener,” said Cherry, from Greenville, N.C. “We’re out there on site from morning until mid afternoon, all working on various jobs that we are taught by the site coordinators. Building the house and helping people at the same time was really rewarding.”

Habitat for Humanity provides affordable housing for those in need. Homeowners assume a zero percent interest mortgage and work on their home and other families' homes. The work creates a true commitment to ownership from the homeowner and helps them make a better life for their family.  

The construction process for a Habitat house is quick, with the help of numerous volunteers and donations. A home usually takes four months to build. UNCW’s student-athletes are helping to build a house at 1403 King St. in Wilmington.

 “We have 30 volunteers build on 10 Saturdays,“ said Jessica Loeper, Cape Fear Habitat for Humanity Volunteer Coordinator. “It takes approximately 750 volunteers to build one Habitat home.”

Several members of UNCW’s Student-Athlete Support Services staff, along with the volleyball, men’s soccer, men’s cross country and women’s cross country teams, have already volunteered their time.

“We installed sub-flooring and wall frames and the team worked along side the new homeowner, building contractors and hopeful future habitat homeowners,” said Volleyball Head Coach Amy Bambenek, who added that the experience “allowed our players to see first-hand that their work really does make a positive difference in other people’s lives.”

Will Libous, SAAC advisor, worked with Cherry to organize the volunteer efforts by more than 60 UNCW student-athletes. Cherry and Libous have both volunteered with Habitat previously and are enjoying working on another home.

“Everyone looked to be having a good time,” said Libous. “It helped to know that what we were doing was for a great cause and supporting the Wilmington community.”

Despite time constraints with classes and practice schedules, the student-athletes have managed to work in time at the house. “Once athletes get out there, the response has been great. Everyone loves it and works really hard,” said Cherry.

Cape Fear Habitat for Humanity’s goal is to build 12 homes each year in New Hanover and Pender counties. The organization has helped more than 150 families in the Cape Fear area since 1987.

With the continued support from UNCW, Loeper believes that Habitat can support even more families in the Wilmington community. She hopes the recent efforts by the student-athletes will lead to future involvement.

Libous also looks forward to the continued relationship with the organization. He believes this will create a closer bond between the community and the university.

"As with any involvement the student-athletes have in the Wilmington community, it shows that they are committed to giving back to this great community, which gives so much support to UNCW and the athletics department,” said Libous.

Construction on the house continues this spring, with completion scheduled sometime in May. The volleyball, men’s soccer, men’s cross country and women’s cross country teams have raised walls and installed vinyl siding.

“It’s apparent that the student-athletes involved have a true desire to help our Habitat homeowners,” said Loeper, “and they are making a difference in life of this homeowner and her family."