Every fall during Homecoming week, the Clemson community unites to build a home for a local family in need. The project, which is organized by Clemson University’s Habitat for Humanity chapter, marked its 25th year and 26th home this year.
A large part of the project’s success and reputation can be credited to Pastor Chris Heavner, who has been a fundamental part of the project since the first build in 1993.
But this year, the homecoming build project manager is hanging up his hard hat and hammer after 25 years of service.
Heavner, who is head pastor of Lutheran Campus Ministries, said the most rewarding part of the project is getting to see the students discover their potential. The project brings together students from every corner of campus, all with different skillsets and strengths. It’s not only the construction management majors who learn from the building process, but also other Clemson students involved in various roles of the project.
From the accounting majors who help with budgeting to the English majors who tell the story of the build, “It’s been a constant process of students discovering what they’re capable of if they just give a little bit of their selves and their time,” Heavner said.
In his 25 years, Heavner has seen more than 10,000 student volunteers work on the project. He hopes that each student walks away from the build understanding what it means to be a part of a community.
“One of the benefits of Clemson University is that we’re in this really small town,” he said. “So I want all the student volunteers to leave campus knowing that they’ve made a difference in the town of Clemson in addition to the university.”
This year’s Habitat home is being built for Anthony and Shena Tolbert and their daughters, McKenzie, 6, and Addison, 6 months. Anthony Tolbert uses a wheelchair due to an accident several years ago, according to Jill Evans, executive director of Pickens County Habitat for Humanity. He works at the Walmart Neighborhood Market in Clemson.
They now live in a small apartment that is not accessible, so they are excited about moving into their new home, which will be fully accessible when it’s finished in the spring or early summer.
It is safe to say that the Habitat for Humanity mission, along with Heavner’s leadership and support, has inspired many Clemson students to continue to serve those in need long after they graduate. One alumna in particular, Rose Davis, continues to look to “Pastor Chris” for mentorship in her current position as the resource development manager for Pickens County Habitat for Humanity.
“Even though he will be sorely missed in the many roles he held relating to Habitat for Humanity here – the community will be forever impacted in the ways Pastor Chris spread kindness to those who needed it most, advocated on behalf of the voiceless and struggling and used his undeniable leadership to make the world a better place,” said Davis.
“Faculty adviser Bob Hogan will be Pastor Chris’ replacement and will do a marvelous job, but Pastor Chris’ legacy with Clemson University Habitat and Pickens County Habitat is something to be admired and celebrated because of the longstanding program he has worked so hard to establish and sustain,” she said.
As Heavner closes one chapter, the thousands of Clemson students he inspired will continue to serve with his mission in mind: to be a part of something bigger than yourself and help your neighbor along the way.
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