Habitat for Humanity's international, student-initiated week of advocacy kicked off Monday and will mobilize youth far and wide to social action.
Throughout "Act! Speak! Build! Week 2009," young people, ages 5 to 25, will be working worldwide in partnership with local Habitat affiliates to plan and host events focused on ending poverty house.
"Today's young people are very aware of our current housing crisis and are eager to get involved," says Erin Rank, president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles. "Act! Speak! Build! Week empowers youth to make a tangible difference, while developing skills in teambuilding, leadership and community development."
"Act! Speak! Build! Week" was initiated in 2002 by the Campus Chapters Advisory Board, a group of student leaders from across the country involved with Habitat. The event, then known as HabiFest, grew to involve 175 chapters in 2003 and more than 225 in 2004 – the year when the event refocused itself on advocacy efforts and introduced the National Advocacy Campaign, a series of four nationwide advocacy events.
The event continued to grow in scope in 2005, as more than 200 U.S. campus chapters and 11 international groups participated in the newly renamed and expanded week of activities. The following year, groups of youth outside the Campus Chapters program were eligible to participate, opening the way for more than 280 groups of youth from diverse organizations to register, including scouting, religious youth groups, student governments and service organizations.
In 2007, "Act! Speak! Build! Week" began to focus on creating campaigns that included education, public awareness and advocacy. By the end of the weeklong event, student groups across the world had sent more than 4,000 letters to their government representatives asking for their support in legislation that supports adequate, fair housing and sustainable development.
"The main thing is the message that one person can do a lot, and if you help the situation you can make a difference," says Rebecca Krimmel, advocacy chair for Habitat for Humanity's Campus Chapter at Louisiana State University.
"Just one person volunteering for a couple of hours can make a huge difference," she told LSU's student newspaper, The Daily Reveille.
According to the Reveille, LSU's chapter of Habitat for Humanity constructed a display board Monday for people to sign to show their support for fighting poor housing conditions and also hosted a kickball game to begin the advocacy week.
Krimmel told the newspaper that all of the displays and events this week are meant to interact with students so they can become more informed about substandard housing issues facing people globally as well as in within the city.
"You would be very surprised how many people around the state and around the country that don't live in adequate housing," she added.
Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, youth from 33 local schools and youth groups are partnering with Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles to initiate and lead programs to educate each other and their communities on the issue of affordable housing as well as fundraise for what will be the second local "House that Youth Build."
Events will vary from showing a film highlighting housing issues to holding a cardboard sleepover to simulate homelessness in the community. The student-initiated and student-led activities will also promote Habitat for Humanity's other local youth programs including the award-winning Nickels for Nails program.
"Act! Speak! Build! Week 2009" officially concludes Sunday.