University of Richmond Habitat chapter
UR Senior Max Brown helps to build a Habitat house.

Habitat returns home to UR

February 5, 2024


When Katie Sinclair first heard about an interest meeting on campus for Habitat for Humanity in fall 2022, she knew she wanted to attend.

“Service was a crucial part of my high school experience,” Sinclair said. “I knew that it would also be key to finding like-minded people in college.”

She assumed the club was already in place. At the meeting, Richmond Habitat volunteer engagement manager Naomi Chetelat explained that the club previously existed at UR, and was well-established, but shut down in 2020 due to the pandemic. She was looking for a group of motivated students to restart the organization.

That’s what four students who showed up at the meeting decided to do. Then first-year students Sinclair and Elizabeth Milliot and second-year students Walezka Abdala and Melissa Chaparro became the founders of UR’s new Habitat for Humanity chapter.

UR students shovel mulch for a garden during a Habitat build.

“Our motivation to move forward came from a desire to inform the Richmond community about the growing housing crisis. Someone's home is the foundation for a path forward in life,” said Sinclair, who is the club’s co-president with Abdala.

The club now has a membership of more than 100.

“The students have demonstrated their full commitment and passion for the work of Habitat and the larger Richmond community in a relatively short time span,” said Blake Stack, senior associate director of Student Engagement and director of the Bonner Scholars Program at UR. Stack, one of the group’s advisors, pointed to the students work to organize build days and create fundraising initiatives.

The chapter hosted five build days last fall. A team of students takes part in an eight-hour day, working alongside experienced builders and future homeowners as they learn new skills. Projects have included framing a house, putting up walls, painting, and landscaping.

Abdala already had some of these skills from helping to build her own family’s house. “Back in high school, my family was a recipient of a Habitat for Humanity house,” she said. “My mom is a single parent taking care of two children so finding a home for us in this market was quite expensive. Habitat allowed us to become homeowners.”

In her senior year, she was awarded a $20,000 college scholarship from Habitat. “This organization has allowed my family to take the first steps into generational wealth and has allowed me to pursue higher education,” she said.

Sinclair had no construction experience but soon developed an affinity for swinging a sledgehammer.

“Construction is not easy, and students are tired after long weeks at school,” Sinclair said. “But seeing the homeowner's enthusiasm early on these Saturday mornings reminds us all of why we are there.”