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Constructing for a cause

Student veterans lead the charge for creating affordable housing in metro Denver to celebrate Veteran’s Day.

Student veteran working at a Habitat for Humanity build. By Kristen Lotze

On Nov. 10, Lauren Sullivan, manager of the MSU Denver veteran/military student center, along with a group of student veterans, donned tool belts and hard hats to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity of Metro Denver. The group build took place at Sheridan Square, the day before Veteran’s Day as part of a week-long celebration honoring MSU Denver student veterans.

Habitat for Humanity is an organization Sullivan is familiar with, having taken part in previous builds in the Denver community. Sullivan became involved with Habitat for Humanity after she purchased a home through the City of Denver’s affordable home-buying program and says she is “very committed to the mission of Habitat for Humanity, and the need and value of affordable housing for all Denver residents.”

When it comes to why she chose this particular organization for the group build with student veterans, Sullivan said, “I believe volunteering and serving through organizations such as Habitat, and giving back in general, are mutually beneficial experiences for the volunteers and for the organization. Many veterans struggle to find meaning and purpose after their transition out of the military and into civilian life, so giving back to others can really bridge this gap and help people to feel purposeful and useful.”

Because of her passion for the organization, and her dedication to its mission, Sullivan was chosen as a Habitat for Humanity Young Professionals’ Emerging Leader this past August and participated in a build and exclusive fundraising event celebrating 25 up-and-coming leaders in the community as part of that honor.

Army veteran Yvens Saintil said volunteering is just the right thing to do. “I do not have the means to give money, but I do have manpower. I enjoy giving back to my community,” he said. “I served 10 years in the Army and I was never the type of leader to sit around while everyone else were gainfully employed. I simply cannot sit around while people in our communities are in need.”
Jim Vinson, an Army & National Guard veteran student majoring in sustainable building systems (individualized degree program), echoed that sentiment.

“I had been thinking about volunteering with Habitat for Humanity again lately but hadn't done anything about. When I saw that the MSU Denver veteran students were being called into action I signed up right away,” Vinson said. “Habitat for Humanity is a great organization with a mission that is easy to get behind. I might not have much I can contribute in regards to funds, but I can make some time to put towards a great cause.
“I love that in doing construction work, you get to see how much you can get done as a team. A big motivator [to volunteer] is that it makes me feel good at the end of the day.”

Of the build experience, brew pub operations major and 22-year Army veteran Richard VanGilder said, “I had a blast meeting the group of veterans that showed up and getting a chance to know them. The build was great. Just knowing that you are helping someone to make their life better — it makes the hard work fun. This is a great way to give back and I hope that this will lead to a better life for someone.”

Robyn Burns, director of communications & marketing for Habitat for Humanity of Metro Denver, said the Sheridan Square project is the Denver organization’s largest development in its 38-year history.

“Once complete, Sheridan Square will include 63 homes, which will take the collective work of more than 40,000 volunteers. We’re so grateful for the support from the MSU Denver students who are volunteering – every helping hand makes a difference,” Burns said.

Located at the intersection of Hampden and Federal, Sheridan Square is being built on 4.6 acres and will contain energy-efficient duplex and triplex townhomes and a park. Expected to be completed by 2021, the development will create a permanent affordable homeownership solution for 355 people, which includes 130 adults and 225 children. The new addition will also add 6 percent more owner-occupied housing units to the neighborhood, helping to create community stability.