Berea College Students Jade Garner ’20 and Lee Meyers ’20 paint the interior of a home built by Habitat for Humanity.

How a Berea student gives back to the organization
that changed her life

When sociology major Jade Garner ’20 began her first-year labor assignment as a custodian in the offices of the Center for Excellence in Learning through Service (CELTS), she found something that reminded her of home: the Berea College Habitat for Humanity Campus Chapter. Half her childhood had been spent in a home built by Habitat in Lexington, Ky., and Garner was immediately interested in joining up.

“Habitat for Humanity changed my life,” said Garner, the child of a single mother who struggled to make ends meet while working two jobs.

A Berea College student painting a door for a home in Florida.
Joudeline Morales ’20 paints a door at a soon-to-be-completed home in Winter Haven, Fla.

Until Garner was 10, the two lived in apartments while searching for a decent home her mother could afford. That home never surfaced, and for Garner, renting meant never being fully able to call a place home. “I never got to make my room my own, painting the walls and things.”

Finally, Garner’s mom applied to Habitat for Humanity, who interviewed the family and laid out the requirements: making less than the median household income, being unable to find an affordable home and the willingness to put in some sweat-equity hours. For Garner, it meant attending an afterschool program focused on life skills and creating a healthy home life.

Photo of Jade Garner's home
The exterior of the Habitat for Habitat for Humanity home where Berea College student Jade Garner ’20 grew up.

“Finding a house through Habitat was a big relief,” she said. “I felt more stable. I could make my room my own, have friends come over and not be interrupted by neighbors. I felt more whole.”

Garner credits that newly stable home life for leading her to college. For the first time, they were able to buy a
computer, which meant she did not have
to go to the library. It’s a small thing, but Garner says it made it easier to apply for college. She estimates without that, she’d be at home working a minimum-wage job instead of attending Berea and eyeing a career in public health.

Her stint as a custodian was short lived. Garner volunteered to work with Habitat her second semester and took it on as her labor position the next academic year.

Mariah leads a group of students in painting a building site.
Mariah Zeidan ’18 paints a building site for Habitat for Humanity.

“Jade is one of the future leaders of the Habitat chapter here on campus,” said Sheila Lyons, program associate at CELTS. “She has been active on builds. She does research when they are preparing for an educational program. She helps communicate with volunteers and does any other job that needs be to be done.”

Garner, three other student employees and a team of volunteers spend Saturdays working on houses in Madison, Clark and, occasionally, Fayette counties throughout the school year, finishing two to three houses in that timeframe. Over spring break, they traveled to Winter Haven, Fla., and painted, prepared subfloors, installed doors and cleaned up yards.

“Habitat is one of the service programs where you see tangible results after putting in an eight-hour day,” Lyons said. “That gives many students a sense of doing something. It’s a wonderful feeling, knowing you are helping a family with their housing needs.”

Garner concurs with Lyon’s assessment. “My favorite part is hearing people’s stories, seeing people better their lives. I feel like I get purpose out of it, that I grow as a person by learning other people’s stories.”

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