Volunteer Profile: SMU

There is a difference, Grace Kuang notes, between building a house and taking care of puppies.

“With past experiences, it’s a lot of individual work,” said Grace. “For example, if I’m helping out at a food bank or animal shelter, there it’s just me interacting with the food or with puppies, doing whatever I can, whatever the organization needs. But with building a house, I can’t do any of this by myself. You always need someone holding the wood, hammering, holding your ladder, so this type of community service is much more collaborative, much more communicative than other services I’ve done in my life.”

Grace Kuang is a student leader with Southern Methodist University’s Alternative Breaks organization. She led a small group of SMU students on their first volunteer trip with NOAHH, helping to build in the Seventh Ward.

“I love my group,” she said. “We have a university-wide application to go on these trips, so a lot of these group members don’t know each other before they come here. Through the trip, the first day, we bonded. Community service creates that sort of relationship that I feel no other activity can do for you.”

On site, she and her fellow students learned not just how to build a home, but why each step in the process matters.

“It’s not my skill set, hammering, building houses,” she said. “I loved it. Getting to do hands-on work like this, I feel like with Habitat there’s a big awareness of why we’re doing what we’re doing in addition to how. Our site leaders, whether they are the AmeriCorps or the staff, they all are open to telling us that we’re hammering this in order to put it on the roof. They’re telling us why. They’re telling us the history of the family that we’re building for.”

Grace started giving back at an early age, and that inspired her to join the Alternative Breaks program at her school.

“I was taught from family, from school, that giving back to the community and service is important,” she said. “I’ve been doing that most of my life. I’ve been going on community service projects. Dedicating an entire break from school is a big commitment. I feel honored to be able to head a group of fellow students who also believe in that same passion. Even though break is a great time to just rest from school, it’s also a chance to get out of there and step outside of our classroom.”

As part of their time in the program, they studied the history and culture of New Orleans, especially the effects of Hurricane Katrina.

“After researching I feel like being able to recognize more of these locations, knowing the Seventh Ward, this ward saw up to ten feet of water and these entire houses were floating down the street, just knowing that as we’re seeing the locations in a different light, trying to imagine how that would have looked like,” she said.