February 15, 2011
Alumnus Hal George (second from right) hands over the keys to a new homeowner. Pictured with George are (from left) President Emeritus and Habitat Chairman Thaddeus Seymour; Ruth’s Hospitality Group President, CEO and Chairman Michael O’Donnell; Homeowner Gaby Daily; and her daughter, Roni.
Another Saturday morning comes and Hal George (Class of 1976) smiles as he sips his coffee and buckles his tool belt to his jeans. He's sleep deprived and overworked, but he couldn't be in a better mood. He's off to his current Habitat for Humanity worksite where a new group of volunteers has gathered together to serve the community.
Habitat is George's most recent endeavor to date, although only one of several successful ventures that the Rollins alumnus has enjoyed since his graduation. The Virginia native was an active member of the Rollins community during his four years of undergraduate studies, during which time he fell in love with the City of Winter Park and chose to make it his permanent residence.
After years of involvement with the Orlando branch of Habitat for Humanity, George partnered with fellow Rollins alumna Gretchen Pollom (Class of 1993) to form the Winter Park Affiliate of Habitat in 1993. For their first project, the Rollins College treasury board offered up $10,000 and the house was dedicated to a Rollins campus safety officer. Since then, Rollins students have been very active in the project, sending between five and seven students every Saturday to assist with the building of homes for families and individuals who don't have the means to purchase homes on their own.
Volunteers do tasks such as paint, shingle roofs, apply dry wall, and other various building projects, all by the sides of the future homeowners who are required to bank 500 hours of "sweat equity" on Habitat projects before they can move in. Tocarra Mallard (Class of 2010), Rollins College's AmeriCorps Vista liaison, feels that working with the people who actually move into the homes is a special experience for the Rollins students, adding an element of reality to the projects they're participating in. "I think that Rollins' involvement in community service really gives the students the opportunity to branch out and realize that everything effects them, if only indirectly,” Mallard said. “And the close relationships they develop with individuals while working on Habitat projects makes them more eager to serve the community and partner with those individuals to make their temporary or future home a better place to be."
Affordable housing has been a very important issue to George who also oversees Parkland International Reality and Parkland Homes, a construction agency in Winter Park. "Thanks to my background in construction, I've always had an interest in providing affordable housing,” said George. “Through Habitat, we're creating an opportunity to break a long cycle of poverty for these families and give them a chance at home ownership."
The Winter Park Affiliate of Habitat for Humanity recently began construction on its 47th house, each of which has been overseen by George. President Emeritus Thaddeus Seymour, who serves as Habitat's current chair, attributes the affiliate's long-term success to the drive and dedication of George, and it's clear that his impact on the community has touched the lives of many. "The real continuity and spirit of Habitat started at Rollins with students and has been carried forward by Hal George."
George, who recently served on the Distinguished Alumni Panel for Social Advocacy at Rollins' 125th Anniversary Celebration and was an inaugural recipient of the Winter Park-Rollins Community Recognition Award, cherishes the ties that remain between the Rollins and Winter Park communities, which have existed since 1885. "I feel like if you're going to live in a place then it’s your responsibility to give back, and I really enjoy that. I don't look at it as payback, but as a mutually beneficial activity for both me and the Winter Park community," George said.
Micki Meyer, director of community engagement at Rollins, calls the ties between Rollins and the Winter Park community very special, and indicative of the types of people who exist in each community. "Rollins students are actively involved in Winter Park with a number of non-profit organizations. Faculty and staff are engaged as civic leaders and participants. Winter Park residents take advantage of the many arts, culture and intellectual activities on campus. Rollins is proud to call Winter Park home and passionate about the opportunities we have to grow together in creating progress and justice in our world."
Habitat for Humanity has been a particularly influential cause on the Rollins campus, as it has been a crucial element in building awareness of issues of poverty and homelessness. Through their work with Habitat, students are armed with the knowledge to tackle the underlying causes. Meyer believes this to be an essential point, adding, "Working with Habitat is not just about building a home. It’s about building a consciousness around issues of poverty and housing. We want students to walk away thinking about how to engage with some of the greatest injustices that face our world and make a sustainable difference in these areas.”
George says that his favorite part of every Saturday is having the chance to work with a new group of volunteers and see the impact that service opportunities can have on their lives. "The future of our world really does rest in the hands of the young, and Rollins students are lucky to have so many outlets for service in the Winter Park community,” George said. "If one student has a good experience working with Habitat, it encourages them to go further with their service endeavors, and through them we have the power to change the world."
By Sarah Hartman (Class of 2011)
Office of Public Relations & Community Affairs
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