Habitat to go off road after safety concerns

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The Habitat Challenge has hit another speed bump just over a month before the trip is set to begin.

The organizers of the annual fundraiser for Habitat for Humanity announced last week that, instead of driving across the country to promote New Haven’s chapter, students this summer will spend a month in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast building homes for Hurricane Katrina victims. This decision comes after the Greater New Haven Habitiat for Humanity, which oversees the Yale chapter, told members of the Yale chapter late last month that trip had to be limited to one location because of concerns about the safety of using student drivers.

“The goal of the Habitat Build Challenge,” Habitat trip leader Shannon Guy ’08 said, “is to transfer the physical duress of going across the country on bikes to the physical duress of actually building.”

But Guy also said she thinks the cancellation of the cross-country travel and the generally ambiguous plans this year have contributed to a lower-than-usual number of participants. She said many students who might otherwise have participated might have already made other summer plans.

The recent change is just one of many the program has seen this year. In September, after Dan Lewis ’09 became the third student in three years to suffer a serious accident while participating in or preparing for the trip, the Yale Habitat board decided to discontinue the 13-year-old format of the trip, in which groups rode across the country on bicycles to raise donations for and awareness about Habitat.

In 2005, Rachel Speight ’06 died after being hit by a car while cycling through Kentucky. Alexander Capelluto ’08 was hit by a truck in May 2006 while he was training for the Challenge in Connecticut and died.

. On Friday, the Saybrook College Orchestra, the Yale Symphony Orchestra and the rock cello group Low Strung — the last of which Lewis was a member — held a benefit concert for the Saybrugian in Battell Chapel.

After their September decision, the Yale Habitat Board came up with a plan to replace the bicycles with cars this summer.

But leaders had to revise their plans again after the Greater New Haven Habitat for Humanity informed Yale organizers that the trip needed to be changed again.

In an e-mail to the members of Yale Habitat on March 31, Guy and fellow trip leader Haley Warden ’08 wrote that the recent change of plans “came as a surprise to us after months of cooperation with Habitat New Haven, and I’m sure we are as disappointed as you to find out about their decision so late in the game.”

The e-mail explains that the new plans, sanctioned by the Greater New Haven Habitat board, calls for the students to work in the New Orleans and Gulf Coast area for a month, since the region is still in need of rebuilding following 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.

Guy said she thinks the board of the Greater New Haven Habitat cancelled the cross-country car trip because it still put the students in too much danger.

“[The board] was still concerned about the possibility of accidents because of the issues that happened last year,” Guy said. “In the future they are thinking about hiring a driver [for a cross-country trip] to reduce the risk of the students driving.”

Greater New Haven Habitat for Humanity representatives could not be reached for comment late last week.

Habitat member Alex Civetta ’09 said that before the Yale chapter decided to adopt a cross-country-driving format, he had been planning to participate in the Habitat Bike Challenge after he finished his senior year. But he said he thinks that the program, in light of recent accidents, was too risky to continue. The newest iteration of the program is still appealing, he said.

“With any big fundraiser, you need to find something risky enough to be interesting to college students and simultaneously safe enough for a college and international organization to endorse,” Civetta said.

Civetta was not involved in the decision to change the format of the trip.

In order to participate, volunteers for the summer program must raise $1,500 before the start of the trip. This year’s trip will take place from June 1 to July 1.

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