A Place for Living

October 21, 2015

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Seeking an alternative way for students to spend their spring breaks—in lieu of the traditional beach scene—Bridgewater College chaplain Robbie Miller and five students opted for working with Habitat for Humanity in inner-city Newark, N.J., in the spring of 1996.

When they came back to campus after their Newark trip, two of those students, Roberta Rinker ’97 and Greg Chester ’98, set to work creating a campus chapter of Habitat for Humanity. One of the campus chapter’s agenda items was to plan a Spring Break Collegiate Challenge with Habitat for Humanity to Miami for the spring of 1997.

In January of 1997, Melissa Jett, class of 1999, was struck by a car on College View Drive and died from her injuries.

“Melissa was this very outgoing, vivacious, service-oriented student who I was just getting to know,” said Miller.

Jett was planning on being a part of the Collegiate Challenge in Miami—a dream that was cut short. Many of her friends and classmates decided to make the trip in her memory. As a result, the group of five students in 1996 grew to 40 students making the trip to Miami one year later.

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During the Collegiate Challenge, students work with local Habitat affiliates doing construction projects. Since the trip in 1997, BC takes nearly 20 students each year. The trip is managed by student leaders, while Miller lends counsel and troubleshoots.

Sometimes students are able to work with the people whose house they are helping to build. “It puts a face on the work they are doing,” noted Miller.

For 18 years, either Miller or other faculty and staff members have been traveling with BC students all over the southeastern United States during spring break. In addition to visiting Miami three times, groups have traveled to Philadelphia, New Orleans and Independence, Mo. They also have visited Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North and South Carolina and Texas.

“I believe these Habitat alternative spring break trips are among some of the most significant and memorable experiences that our students have,” stated Miller. “We talk about transformative education, and these trips really are transforming for some of our students.”

As the first director of what was then the College’s Service-Learning Center, Miller implemented the Melissa Jett Community Service Award.

“Jett demonstrated a heart for service and it seemed only natural to name the award after her,” Miller said.