Constructing Habitat for Humanity


Kaya Schultz, Editor in Chief

If you’re looking for a way to positively impact your community or are in need of community service hours, then Habitat for Humanity is the perfect opportunity for you.

A team of student volunteers plan to work together to build the wall frames of a 3-bedroom, 1050 square foot home, designated to go to a family in southern Ocean County. The home will be built in West Orange, then placed on a trailer to be relocated to the site where it will actually be placed in the ground. The team over in Ocean County will get the land ready in advance, so that when the house is dropped, it is all set up. Although originally scheduled for March 21st, the build has been postponed to April 21st due to the coronavirus. (As of now)

The plan was initiated by West Orange High School student Soham Bhatnager, who has prior experience. He states, “I’ve always been an advocate for socioeconomic inequality. I’ve been doing Hammering 4 Habitat, which is basically an event in Paterson where we build wall frames for future homes.”

The plan took a while to mold into what it is today. Last May, Soham started meeting with teacher advisors to create a plan and it wasn’t until this February that he finally got the go ahead to spread the word. “Almost immediately people responded and I was extremely excited,” he says. “Basically nobody knew about it and then it just exploded in one week. I wasn’t expecting to have so many volunteers.”

By “so many volunteers,” Soham means that they have over one hundred extra volunteers! There are currently close to 180 participants, even though they only needed 75; however, the team is still encouraging students to get involved. 

Soham credits many teachers and students who contributed to developing the project, one of the biggest being Mr.Petrella, an automotive technology teacher at West Orange High School. Mr.Petrella states, “Soham came to me and I had already been wanting to do this for years. Even my masters thesis is similar to something like this, where a bunch of kids would build a house from scratch and give it back to the community, so when Soham approached me, of course I was in.”

Although this is the first year that West Orange is hosting this event, Mr.Petrella has previous experience with reconstructing homes. “In 2012, my house got destroyed by superstorm Sandy,” he states. “I had to gut out everything and clean it all up. We had to get dumpsters and clean it all out. I rented an apartment for 18 months. I had to get funding, which took a while between the bank, insurance company, and everybody involved. Eventually I built my house back up again with the help of my son.”

Soham also seeked help from his fellow classmates, Anika Fernandes and Arthi Sivendra. He states, “They were instrumental because they helped me fundraise. We did a Krispy Kreme donut sale on our day off at Liberty and Gregory voting sites. We raised about $600 there. They also helped me spread the word. Arthi created the flyer and they’ve been able to promote it through the clubs they are a part of and recruit volunteers.”

Although the plans and structure of the house are already set up, the team still had to come up with $3,500 for materials. While they did successfully reach their goal, they understand that fundraising will play an important part in not only setting up this year’s build, but also future ones. The team wants to come up with a little over the required amount for this year to set it up for next year as well, which is why the donations are yearly.

Soham is extremely excited to see what such an experience will bring to the volunteers. “This will help build a sense of community and teamwork because it shows that if everyone is dedicated to building a home for a less fortunate family, then it will make them believe that they can achieve anything,” he says. “This experience will be life changing and will hopefully encourage the volunteers to continue working with charitable organizations.”

Mr. Petrella has big plans for the future, even after students like Soham, Anika, and Arthi graduate. He states, “We want to make this a yearly event so that every student gets the chance to experience this. I’d eventually like to get a family in West Orange who needs it, so we have to look into the possibilities of who has land, if the town wants to get involved, etc.”