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Building Homes, Serving People


Photo Courtesy of Habitat for Humanity

Article Written by Sarah Joseph

Spring Break – two words that convey so much for college students. Almost immediately, images of the ultimate college spring break come to mind. These may be somewhere on a beach, maybe Mexico, chilling and hanging out with your closest friends, sipping on cool drinks and working on those tans. Some Roanoke College students who have more altruistic interests are heading to South Carolina with Habitat for Humanity to build a house and eventually, a community.

The Rev. Chris Bowen, who students know as Chaplain Chris, will be leading a group of 12 students to Columbia, South Carolina. Bowen has taken every spring break Habitat trip for the past four years that he has worked at Roanoke.

This year RC celebrates its 17th spring break Habitat trip. The first one began with the Rev. Paul Henrickson, who was Roanoke’s long time former chaplain.

Thus far, there has been 42 trips done by Roanoke College students, including fall and occasional winter break trips.

The spring break Habitat trip consists of a week in South Carolina where for six hours a day the students help to build houses. Typically, they build one to four homes per trip, depending on the size of the house and the level of experience of the students. Lunch is typically provided by Habitat.

Bowen said the atmosphere is fun with music playing, sing-a-longs, and occasional dance breaks.

“Here is where connection are made,” he said. “I love how having a common mission can bring people together who come from different backgrounds.”

While students bond over hammers, saws, and sweat, they also make t-shirts to commemorate their week of service.

But it is not all hard work. After their six hours of work per day, students can explore and hit the town of Columbia. Various host families provide dinner and movie nights.

Last fall break, they went to the movie theater and saw “Ghostbusters.” Students typically visit a local ice cream shop called Zesto’s.

Bowen said his favorite part of this annual trip is the bonfire that, according to him, roars upwards of 20 feet high. This huge bonfire is a great place to bond and enjoy the time with the people on the trip, he said. The bonfire is hosted at a Habitat worker’s house a little bit outside of the city.

Also, Bowen’s birthday falls during spring break many years, this one included. Traditionally, he takes the students to a nearby Waffle House to celebrate.

“I love the chance that students get to see that there really are small ways to make a real difference,” Bowen said.