Jul 09, 2020

University HOPE helps build homes

Photo courtesy of HOPE

University HOPE (Housing OPportunities through Education) is a non-profit organization with a mission to “give families hope one house at a time.” The organization builds homes for low-income families in an effort to improve neighborhoods.

In 1994, University HOPE began with the leadership of members of the Fresno State community. The organization is closely affiliated with Fresno State and seeks the commitment of its students, faculty and staff as well other community volunteers in order to provide suitable housing for families in need.

University HOPE builds approximately one house per year with the help of about 200 people from Fresno State and the surrounding community.

“[This year] we are renovating an existing home for a low-income, single-parent family and we hope to be done by Christmas,” Dr. Daniel Griffin, associate director for the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs at Fresno State, said.

Griffin has been a member of University HOPE for 11 years and has seen the organization utilize Fresno State students, faculty and staff to complete its mission throughout the years.

University HOPE is operated by an all-volunteer board of directors who plan and organize the work in addition to their regular professions. Chris Fiorentino, chairman of the board of directors, believes there are professional and personal benefits Fresno State students can earn by volunteering with University HOPE.

“Our mission is to address poverty through providing affordable housing for local families while at the same time providing students an opportunity to use their talents towards meeting the goals of University HOPE,” Fiorentino said.

“This is a meaningful service for the community and for them,” Fiorentino added. “Student-volunteers can learn the professions of construction, marketing and special events.”

For Phaengsy Keokongmy, a Fresno State interior design student, volunteering with University HOPE has turned into a passion.

Keokongmy was introduced to the organization through the service-learning curriculum of her interior design major. She started out as a volunteer, giving up one of her Saturdays occasionally to work on different projects. This semester, Keokongmy is the volunteer coordinator for University HOPE through an internship.

“Students walk in with no experience and then walk away with tons of experience,” Keokongmy added. “You learn to build and revitalize a house and you walk away with new learning skills.”

Keokongmy says her volunteer work has influenced her learning skills and future professional goals. She is now an aspiring humanitarian designer.

“University HOPE gives me the opportunity to get hands-on experience, understand the construction process and to be a real design consultant for the organization,” Keokongmy said. “This experience helps me become a better designer and every day I learn something new. [Student-volunteers] are left with a rewarding feeling of pride that we were able to help a family and give them hope.”

Griffin says students will find volunteering with University HOPE to be very helpful and informative for their profession.

“Many construction management students are helping out this semester and it all directly relates to their major,” Griffin said. “While many haven’t had any hands-on experience, they can learn what this looks like and what it takes to do the job. They will learn by doing.”

With the help of Fresno State students, faculty and staff and the community, University Hope has built 10 homes, all of which have been sold to first-time buyers with low income.

“At the end of the process, we have something of a housewarming, where we hand over the house key to the family. A lot of the students come and it’s very rewarding for them to see how they helped the family and what they have accomplished,” Griffin said.

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