Registrar Rallies Students to Build Homes

February 14, 2012

When John Pestana '92 returned to Stonehill as Registrar six years ago, he had two goals beyond the professional challenge of scheduling 700 courses from 30 academic departments and programs each semester:

"I wanted to get involved with community service and to find a way to interact with students," he said.

Pestana succeeded in doing both in 2009 when he, along with Mitchell Keylor ‘11, re-chartered the Stonehill Chapter of Habitat for Humanity (HFH).

Founded in 1976, Habitat for Humanity is an international, nonprofit, ecumenical Christian ministry founded on the conviction that every person should have a decent, safe and affordable place to live.

Homes are usually built in economically-depressed communities, or for needy families. Today, Habitat for Humanity has built more than 400,000 houses, sheltering more than two million people worldwide.

"I swing a hammer and use a saw right along with the students," said Pestana, advisor to the Stonehill Chapter of HFH, as well as the Chairman for the Stoughton and Easton Local Partnership Committees.

Working Side by Side

"I absolutely love working side by side with the Habitat crew- not only because I get to interact with Stonehill students, but because we're out doing good in the real world. They inspire me, and, hopefully, I'm inspiring them," he said.

And, apparently, the students love working with the Registrar.

"We club members got very close to John-working so closely with a variety of people from all over campus and the community is my favorite part of Habitat," said Heather O'Keefe '13, vice president of the Stonehill Chapter.

Some 100 Stonehill students are members of the HFH Stonehill Chapter. They put in 90 hours at four home sites per year. They are responsible for fund-raising, creating educational awareness, advocacy work and for participating in four local builds per year.

In just three years, Pestana and the Stonehill Chapter of HFH have participated in 12 "builds" in three states.

Meeting the People You Help

Most recently, they completed a handicap-accessible house for the Daxberger family in Stoughton.

After a full year of building, the home was completed in January. Stonehill's food management provider Sodexo also donated meals for workers throughout the year, as well as the cake for the dedication.

Chad and Erin Daxberger have three boys-the youngest of whom has muscular dystrophy. At their old house, they had to carry their four-year-old son Landon up to their second floor apartment.

"Getting to know the Daxbergers was amazing," Pestana said. "With Habitat, you can actually see and meet the people you're helping."

He wanted to point out that Habitat does not give the homes away- they are sold at a price determined to be affordable for the applicant family at zero percent interest. The family also puts in "sweat equity" hours.

Habitat Treasurer Katie Reilly '13 said "working alongside Chad and Erin Daxberger- and seeing their family enter the house they'd worked so hard for- affirmed my faith in everything that Habitat stands for."

Stonehill HFH Chapter President John Santoro '12, also said he was most proud of the Daxberger house.

"It was amazing to see the transformation of the house. I was one of the first people to work on that house, and I was one of the last to put the finishing touches on it," said Santoro, 21.

Habitat on Spring Break

Since 2010, Pestana has taken some members of the group to build homes for needy families in economically-depressed towns in South Carolina and Tennessee during Spring Break.

In 2010, six students went to Bluffton, S.C. Last year, 11 students went to Mullins, S.C., which has a poverty rate of 85 percent and an unemployment rate of 21 percent. This spring, 13 students will travel to Cookeville, Tenn.

"Last year, the people in Mullins made a point to come out and get to know us throughout the week," said O'Keefe. "We cooked dinner for the entire community one night at the church we stayed at."

That moment was one of Pestana's favorites, too:

"The students were given a day off to go explore Myrtle Beach, but instead they chose to use their money to buy food and cook a chicken parmesan dinner for 75 parishioners of the church that hosted us as a thank you," Pestana said.

"They all wore Stonehill shirts when they served the dinner, and they decorated the room in purple and white. Their pride in Stonehill and their willingness to give up their time off was such a proud moment for me," he said.

Next Project

The Stonehill crew will break ground for a home in Easton this spring.

"We're all very excited about the upcoming Easton build," said Reilly. "The partnership between Stonehill and an Easton family will be a good way to build new relationships."

Pestana said he's always looking for volunteers to work on build days, help raise awareness and funds, to make in-kind donations of materials or lunches for build days, or to help with fundraising events.

For more, e-mail or "friend" Stonehill College Habitat on Facebook.


For more information, contact Communications and Media Relations at 508-565-1321.