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Massachusetts college students repair homes in Tuscaloosa

This week, they’re here working through Habitat for Humanity of Tuscaloosa to repair two homes in parts of the city that were ... the volunteers were met in Alabama with some of the coldest temperatures of the season. Adding to that, the water pipes ...

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By Jason MortonStaff Writer For the seventh time since a tornado tore apart 12 percent of Tuscaloosa in 2011, a group of students and staff members from a small, Catholic liberal arts college in New England has returned here to help out.Much of the rebuilding from the April 27, 2011, storm is complete, but the volunteers from Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, keep coming.This week, they’re here working through Habitat for Humanity of Tuscaloosa to repair two homes in parts of the city that were unharmed by the storm.But that doesn’t mean there isn’t work to be done.“It’s become near and dear to our hearts,” said Zachary Shepard, an Assumption College senior majoring chemistry, about Tuscaloosa.This is his first time visiting the Druid City, and the elements did not allow him and his friends to escape the harshness of winter.While Assumption College was set to be closed this week because of the threat of 12 inches of snow, the volunteers were met in Alabama with some of the coldest temperatures of the season.Adding to that, the water pipes in their original “temporary home” burst, forcing them to relocateThey’re now taking shelter in upstairs classrooms of First Presbyterian Church.Despite this, Shepard said he and his fellow volunteers were happy to be here, having come to know Tuscaloosa thanks to Michael Land, an assistant professor of English at Assumption College and son of Charlie Land, former publisher of The Tuscaloosa News.Michael Land was influential in the first trip, in 2012, by Assumption College’s SEND — Students Exploring New Destinations — service program, which allows students to participate in community building projects across the nation.Since then, the group has returned at least once a year.“We keep coming back because we have a great student body and they’re always looking for ways to give back,” Shepard said.Shepard is serving as team leader on the group that’s working to rehabilitate the home of Sherry Hill on Beech Street.Hill’s daughter, Amy Snyder, shares the home with her mother and Snyder’s own daughter and granddaughter.As saws buzzed around her and the Assumption College volunteers helped improve her home, Snyder described the aid her family is receiving through Habitat for Humanity as a “blessing.”“It’s a blessing ..,” said Snyder, 43“I’m thankful for them coming to spend their time to come help us get our home updated and fixed.”Across town, on 30th Avenue East, Shanell Cartagena is serving as team leader for the rehabilitation of the home owned by Bessie Hamilton.Cartagena, 23, holds undergraduate and master’s degrees from Assumption College and now works as an admission’s counselor for the schoolShe’s been on several SEND trips before — including those to Pennsylvania, Maryland and Ecuador — but, like Shepard, she’s making her first trip to Tuscaloosa.But she keeps returning to the SEND work because of what it means both to her and those who are receiving the assistance.“A lot of us, as students and staff members, partake of that because we understand that we’re not only giving back to the community, but we’re also growing from that, as well,” Cartagena said“I think, for me, when I was a student, it was just very important to open my horizons, see what was out there and be able to interact with different people and see what’s happening in their lifeSometimes, we are so concentrating on what’s happening in our life that we forget what happens out there...“And you realize — I’m giving my time to someone who actually needs it and just how appreciative of that they are.” Reach Jason Morton at or 205-722-0200. About Us Sign up for daily e-mail Subscribe Reader ServicesSubscribe/Manage AccountManage Print AccountManage Digital AccountPhoto Reprints

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