Kathleen Abels '09 Goes the Distance for Affordable Housing
Kathleen Abels '09 and her blue Cannondale made the trek as part of the Habitat Bicycle Challenge, a program run by New Haven’s Habitat for Humanity chapter. Participants are also given the opportunity to work on the building sites with those individuals receiving homes.
Abels has passionately pursued this cause, dedicating her time, money and quite literally her muscle. “I really believe in the importance of affordable housing and the impact that it can have on individuals and families,” says Abels. Her relationship with Habitat began her freshman year when she went on a Haverford sponsored Housing Outreach Action Project (HOAP) trip to North Carolina. There, she learned of her peers’ many talents, interests and abilities, which in turn made her even more excited to be a part of the Haverford community. Inspired by this trip, she headed the Habitat for Humanity Group her sophomore year, along with classmate Meg Dickey-Griffith ‘09.
And even when Abels was not in school, she became involved in other affordable housing programs. As an Everett Service intern during the summer of 2006, she worked for Common Ground, a supportive housing agency in New York City. The previous summer she worked under one of Senator Hillary Clinton’s constituent liaisons as a housing intern for Section 8 of the New York City Housing Authority.
Every Habitat Challenge Bicycle rider has to raise at least $4,000 before the trip starts. The generosity of churches along the way and the donations of corporate sponsorships helped with fundraising efforts. Seventy-five percent of the money raised goes to the New Haven chapter's annual budget. Abels raised over $7,000, contributing to the more than $400,000 that the entire program collected. “It’s a lot easier to raise money for something that you really believe in. And I really believe in the impact of Habitat, and not giving a hand out but giving a hand up,” says Abels.
On average, the group biked 75 miles a day, but sometimes the journey would require as many as 100. Traveling in groups of four or five, the bikers would often sing pop songs or take in the scenery of the varying landscapes they passed. Abels says reassuringly, “You get into better and better shape so when you hit the Rockies you’re not dying.”
Abels says the most memorable stop on her trip was Hartville, Wyoming, a town of no more than 76 people. “Wyoming was one of the states where you hit the border and you’re like, wow, we are really far from Connecticut. This is the West.”
And then, of course, there was the day they finally hit the ocean. The group had reached the Cascades in Washington and, after stopping a short while, biked the final two miles together. The ocean was a short downhill ride to a state park and beach. Everyone threw down their bikes and ran into the water. Having dipped their tires in the Atlantic when they first began, they finally touched the Pacific. “It was an incredible feeling of accomplishment. There was a huge amount of pride and joy that we all did it together,” says Abels.
This spring semester, the political science major with an African Studies concentration will study abroad in Ghana. “This is something I should really know more about and Haverford has given me a great opportunity to study it.” She looks forward to taking Ghanaian specific classes to learn more about the country’s literature, politics and history.
When she returns from Ghana, she hopes to receive funding for a Center for Peace and Global Citizenship (CPGC) domestic internship which would enable her to work for affordable housing in Denver, Colorado. “As important as Haverford is, there is a huge world outside of it,” says Abels. “Haverford does a really good job of saying these are all of the things you can be a part of. It’s just your choice to do it.” And Abels has done quite a bit: she plays on the women’s varsity basketball and Ultimate Frisbee teams, and works at Haverford’s Magill Library.
Abels told of a meaningful experience she had in the fall of 2007 when she served as one of the three junior representatives on the Council of Twelve, a part of Haverford’s newly restructured Students’ Council. When discussing the “Haverford community,” Abels reflects on a comment made by Evan Rodriguez ’08: “The fact that we can actually say the Haverford community and everyone knows what that means, is really something special.”
Community is a word heard often on Haverford’s campus, and one which is sometimes used only in reference to it. But Abels’s involvement shows just how boundless the Haverford community can be. “There is so much to get out of Haverford and there is so much that all of us can do to make it the place that it is.”
-Ariella Foss ‘09