A Coordinator's Experience with Habitat for Humanity in Alabama

Long time Project Children Coordinator Al DeBenedictis describes his experience in Alabama, talking part in Habitat for Humanity with the interns:


Where else would anyone want to be in the world but Alabama in the middle of June; home of Alabama State University and the location where one of the most devastating (category 5) tornados in history touched down and left its devastating mark on Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Of course temperatures in the mid 90’s with 70% humidity also added to the cultural shock. On April 27th 2011 the landscape in Tuscaloosa changed in the matter if minutes. Some 5000 homes and a grammar school were wiped off the map; and 41 lives lost. Now it’s Saturday, June 23, 2012, and all twenty-eight of us stepped off our flights in Alabama; we were all ready to make some small contribution to the rebuilding process of Tuscaloosa. Project Children’s Habitat Team is on the ground!  


Our first stop was at a YMCA Camp grounds that would be our residence for the next week, at least for most of our team; some of us could only stay for a few days because of other Project Children commitments back in New York. Two air conditioned trailers, lined with bunk beds, served as our sleeping quarters; one for the ladies, the other one for the men. The shower and toilet facilities were some 40 dusty yards away. Situated in between was a large building that served as our dining hall and meeting facility; fully equipped with a kitchen … all the comforts of home with the exception... No TV! Having established residence in Alabama, we now had to get to the important stuff like a visit to Wal-Mart where we purchased all our survival equipment and supplies - like flip-flops for the walk to and from the showers; sun screen; towels, toiletries, blankets, a swim suit or shorts and snacks… lots of snacks!  We were now ready to take on what ever Tuscaloosa had to offer.


On our first evening we were invited to a barbeque at the Kappa Alpha fraternity, on the campus of Alabama State University, where we met a dozen, or so, very fine “Southern Gentlemen” who thanked us for coming down to help and rewarded us with their hospitality and fare. The following morning most of us attended Mass at The Holy Spirit Church. There we met the pastor, Fr. Jeremiah Deasy, who hailed from County Cork, Ireland. At the end of Mass Fr. Deasy introduced our “Irish” group to the parish; who extended their heartfelt thanks to us for coming to assist in the rehabilitation work. Our task for the afternoon was to keep cool… so we spent our time at a water park; mainly in the pool. That evening we went on a tour of the area that we would be working in for the next week. We saw barren land that stretched for miles littered with a few twisted trees. It was obvious that this was the path that the tornado had taken as it passed through. We also visited the house that most of us would be assigned to work on the following day. Our task for the week was to put the finishing touches on this house so that a family could move in… and call it home by the following weekend.


Our first work day was Monday, June 25th; a third of us were assigned to work on the inside of the house, installing the appliances, doors and door hardware, shelving; trim molding on kitchen cabinets; porch railings, touch-up painting, washing windows and cleaning floors and lots of vacuum and dusting. While another third of the group worked on clearing the area around the outside of construction materials; debris and leveling the grounds so the trees, shrubs and sod could be planted in the following days. Also over the next few days a new shed would be added to complete the project’s landscape. The final third of our group was assigned to another site where they installed doors and started the process to put finishing touches on another house getting it a step closer to completion and dedication.


While conditions under which the Project Children group worked were severe, with regard to the heat and humidity, no one complained, everyone pulled their own weight and worked hard and all took pride in the work they were doing. As one of the Adult chaperones; I too was proud of the 2012 Project Children Habitat Team… bottom line a Habitat home, sponsored by the Major League Baseball organization, was dedicated on time.


Many thanks to all for a job well done and a great experience!!!



The People of Tuscaloosa Made Our Experience

"We left for Alabama not really knowing what to expect but hot weather and hard work with a group of people we had just met. When we got to Tuscaloosa we were shown the trail of destruction that was still very visible more than a year after the hurricane had hit. Seeing damage it had caused, made us realize how lucky we were, in Ireland our only worry is that it won’t rain too much over the summer, these people live in fear of when or where something like this will happen again and if they will lose everything. The people of Tuscaloosa really lived up to the reputation of their southern hospitality. Before we had even began work, on the Sunday night we were invited to a fraternity house, where the boys welcomed us in and provided a barbeque and activities for all the interns. We began work on the Monday, prepared with our high factor sun cream and plenty of water and ice.

Habitat had 2 houses that were at different stages of completion and we all got stuck in doing whatever needed done, from painting and building a shed to landscaping the garden. One of the many great things about Habitat for Humanity is that you work alongside the person who the house is for. So we got to meet Markedia and hear all about how her and her two boys had lost their home and how she was now living with her mother. This inspired us to work harder to complete the home for the deserving single parent. We worked alongside many different church groups and volunteers. We met many amazing people, on our first day there a local church group provided us with a barbeque and more food than we could possibly eat.  After a very long hard week we dedicated the house to Markedia and her family on the Friday.  Seeing her and her two boys in their new home made all the hours we had spent in the sometimes 40 degree heat seem like nothing. It was such a great experience, made even better by the people of Tuscaloosa and their charitable nature and the group of people that we had spent the entire week and shared the experience with seemed like friends you had known your whole life."



Project Children Interns Feel a Strong Sense of Belonging

Brendan Carty an Architecture Student from University of Ulster Belfast interning at BHC Architects New York writes of the excellence that Project Children is known for.


"Project Children from the outset is viewed as a program of excellent opportunity for potential candidates, with great positive outcomes. It’s not until a student becomes part of the program that they understand the strong sense of belonging that thrives among its extended family. New members find themselves overwhelmed by the support and selflessness of the staff that quickly filters down into the new recruits. The habitat week became not only a rewarding piece of charity but a tremendous social watershed for many; the camp in Alabama became a place where people of different creed, culture, gender or age became great friends.

From the word go Alabama was hard work, the jetlagged interns began a week of 6am starts of difficult construction labour, but come every afternoon when it was time for planed activities every intern was thriving and full of energy, whether it was being invited to a prestigious fraternity party, sporting event or my personal favorite; swimming in a beautiful lake with white sands, clear warm waters and forested mountainous backdrop. This combination of work and fun together provided every intern with a major boost of confidence and self esteem.

The Habitat for humanity program allowed us all to make new friends, in particular the habitat directors Brandon and Peter were two outstanding people who found very special relationships with us. We have now entered the internship stage of our program, which will surely be equally as rewarding.

Saving the best for last we must credit the host families, after being blessed with a great family; myself and a fellow intern ‘Dermot Joe’ come back to the comfort and safety of our home each day, and to a family meal. Jojo and Ray Gallagher have volunteered to shadow children from the beginning of the Irish troubles, now they volunteer their homes and time for interns. Their acts of selflessness are what makes the program possible, they have taken us to many family parties with swimming pools and recently a private professional fireworks display for the 4th of July. They have proved to be great craic and supportive from the word go, and we look forward to the next five weeks with them."






The Habitat Experience: Adventurous, Rewarding & Enjoyable

Kirsty Gillen a Creative Media Production Student at South West College, Enniskillen interning at



"I think we can all agree that working in Tuscaloosa, Alabama for Habitat for Humanity was one of the most adventurous, rewarding and enjoyable experience of our lives. We got to experience the cultural and religious beliefs of others and witness how they live their lives. It was a huge shock to see how this tornado had affected the people of Tuscaloosa and how long it has taken them to get back to normal living conditions. Everyone worked very hard to rebuild the homes that were lost and we were all blessed that we could be apart of this experience.  


The weather conditions were so hot that most of us have never experienced anything like it, with temperatures as high at 108 degrees. It made it near impossible to work. Although everyone helped to keep each others spirits up and there was never a dull day on site. We have made numerous friends from the building site and people from the town of Tuscaloosa,  none us of imagined that we would become such close friends. 


I believe that this once in a life time experience has helped to show us what is important in life and that we will carry this memory with us forever."



Interns Pride in Tuscaloosa Build

Hannah Lynch a Law Student at Queen's University Belfast interning at Burke Miele Golden LLP, New York, talks about her humbling habitat experience.
"I have never experienced such heavy heat or, as the boys said in the video, never before did I drink so much water! Working in humidity and stifling heat was worth it to see the smiles on Markida and her boys' faces. It was great getting to know the group better by working together and having the craic both on site and doing night activites. It was one of the hardest weeks of work I ever did, but I learned so much and felt so humbled that people had enough faith in me to allow me to help to build a house for a family. When the house was dedicated I felt such a feeling of pride in what we as a group worked for as well as for all of the other volunteers who worked on the house before us."



Project Children Intern Encourages Others to Volunteer

Amy Conway a Communication, advertising and Public Relation student from Napier University, interning at the Waterstone Inn & The Village of Greenwood Lake New York, reflects on her time spent in Alabama and encourages others to volunteer, 
"Taking part in habitat for humanity was a thoroughly rewarding experience and I am privileged to have had the opportunity to take part. This was my first time volunteering and has encouraged me to become more involved in different organisations after I return home from my internship. Seeing how much our work has improved the quality of life for others has made the experience worth while and I have learnt that the smallest bit of help can make such a difference. Working alongside members of the Project Children interns for a week meant that we developed a strong bond and I have made some close friends, mainly because we had to work together as a team to help eachother and complete the task at hand. I would defiantly recommend taking part in such a project or even volunteering at home as it is a great feeling to help others. I am very grateful for this experience and it will stay with me for many years to come."

"Volunteers Work Through the Heat" CBS42 News


Click the link below to watch the News Video 


Habitat for Humanity Tuscaloosa is a local affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International. Their mission is to rebuild Tuscaloosa by partnering with volunteers, donors, sponsors, and families to provide housing solutions and ongoing community development. They do this by building attractive, affordable, sustainable new homes for hardworking families, rehabbing and repairing existing homes in critical need, and serving as a catalyst for a wide range of community strategies that will transform lives and neighborhoods. 


Project Children Interns fly to Alabama Saturday 23rd June 2012 to participate in Habitat for Humanity where they, like many interns before them will deticate the first week of their internship by giving back to the American people in Tuscaloosa.

Follow the progress of the relief work on the Habitat website: