Building community alongside buildings | Perkins Fellow Julia Johnson '16

Looking back on this past year, it's hard to believe that graduation is coming near and many of the activities that have made up my time at UVa are now ending. Although the Perkins Fellowship wasn't a strenuous activity requiring copious amounts of time, the fellowship and volunteering at Habitat for Humanity did make my last year at UVa a little brighter and a lot more thought-provoking. Last night, I had potentially my last night volunteering with Community Conversations through Habitat for Humanity. The Community Conversations are a time when all of the residents to-be are put together in one room where they can meet, bond, share, and learn about each other and how to do life together. The kids get to play together and become friends before they become neighbors. Community Conversations have definitely been my favorite part of volunteering because I've gotten to meet Johnny, Thang, Sefi and many more kids. Partaking in these monthly meetings as well as volunteering on build sites has shown me a lot about how important people are in terms of building.

In school, relationships, neighborhoods, and a sense of place are not part of the curriculum when discussing civil engineering and the design of infrastructure. I can’t thank Habitat for Humanity and the Perkins Fellowship enough for opening my eyes to see not only that I want to pursue my career in civil engineering and construction in the technical sense, but that I want to focus on the people I am building for and how each person and the way they interact with others plays a part in the building of homes, schools, hospitals, etc. Getting to know the people whose home I would be working on later that week allowed me to take more ownership over the building and put more thought and effort into how to make it perfect for a family such as Johnny and Thang’s. This call to care about the wellness of the inhabitants and not only the construction of the building has changed the way I view my vocation going forward and has allowed me to view my career beginning in August in a more compassionate and less self-serving manner, one where I can make the residents and their needs more of a priority and encourage friendliness and neighborhoods among the owners.