Boston College students spend break volunteering in Huntington


Rebecca Turnbull

Kim Bretta, left, and Troy Vagianelis of Boston College volunteer during their spring break with the Huntington Area Habitat for Humanity to assist with constructing a home Friday.

As Marshall University students gear up to take their spring break, a group of students from Boston College waved goodbye to the Jewel City.

The students were working with the Huntington Area Habitat for Humanity to help build a house on Bruce Street. The organization builds homes for the less fortunate and in turn the new homeowner pays a 25-year interest free monthly mortgage.

That payment then helps the organization build more houses for families in need in Cabell County, West Virginia and Lawrence County, Ohio.

Senior biology major Troy Vagianelis said Huntington’s environment provided a needed break.

“It’s very refreshing to kind of take a break and step back [and] kind of just relax,” Vagianelis said. “Boston is obviously like a city and even though we are a bit outside, it’s still hustle and bustle and everyone is rushing everywhere.”

Vagianelis said he enjoyed the hospitality Huntingtonians displayed during the trip.

“Also, I think that you’re walking anywhere and people are saying ‘hi,’” Vagianelis said. “People are asking how you’re doing and in Boston, even at our school, people are kind of just narrow and focused on where their destination is.”

Vagianelis said the experience allowed him to learn more about West Virginia and the struggles our communities face.

“We can also see while some of the houses are a little run down, they hold a family who has a great heart, awesome stories and just boundless love,” Vagianelis said. “And I think it’s taking those stories back and just holding them with us in whatever we do in day-to-day life.”

Junior nursing major Kim Bretta said the 8:15 a.m. wakeup calls and long days were worth it.

“We’ve been working on a couple of the veteran’s homes and we’ve been setting up floors, then we put up the walls and build those.” Bretta said. “We’re trying to finish all of these properties before the grant money runs out in August.”

Bretta said she hopes the trip encouraged participants to become passionate about helping others.

“A lot of them are just being introduced to social justice issues and learning about those, so they’re able to kind of find that fire within them,” Bretta said. “Hopefully that will motivate them to work with our local community back home as well.”

Sophomore finance major John Treimen said he enjoyed exploring Huntington in his spare time.   

“We went out to Hillbilly Hotdogs and it was really cool,” Treimen said. “With that experience we got to kind of drive through and see the change in where we were staying to out in the more rural areas and along the Ohio River.”
Treimen said he believes the work the group completed over spring break will leave an impact on the long-term goals of the Huntington Area Habitat for Humanity.

“Something I think we can definitely take away from this is with our immediate impact that we’re making with this house that we’re building right now it’s just one step in a long process, a long walk of working to actually make a difference,” Treimen said.

Treimen echoed Vagianeli’s sentiments about Huntington being much different than Boston.

“Something that I think is unique about Huntington is—we’re staying in the First Presbyterian Church—it seems like we are in high demand for people who want to come and spend time with us and either cook for us or just be with us,” Treimen said.

Treimen said he believes the group of students had a “two-way relationship” with Huntington.

“They’re helping us grow both individually and as a group and we’re also giving back to the community, so I think that’s unique to Huntington,” Treimen said.

A group of Marshall students are also participating in the Collegiate Challenge through the university’s Habitat for Humanity chapter.

Those students will be heading to Eustis, Florida during spring break to build houses in Lake and Sumter counties.

Clara Maynard can be contacted at [email protected].