Coe College - Center for Community Engagement


Nina Johnson – Habitat for Humanity (H4H)

Nina Johnson, Coe H4H Co-President

Psychology Major at Coe College

Class of 2015

(Nina began her involvement with Coe’s Habitat for Humanity Chapter during her first year; she served as the Fundraising and Education Chair. Nina became President her sophomore year. She is currently acting as Co-President with Bethany Lehman.

During her time at Coe, Nina served Cedar Valley Habitat for Humanity as an ICAP. She has volunteered at ReStore and participated in 10 home builds –ranging from Women’s Builds, to Youth United homes, to a Global Village build in Nicaragua.)


Why did you decide to get involved with Coe’s Habitat for Humanity Chapter (H4H)?

“I was always interested in their mission, but there wasn’t a Habitat for Humanity Club at my high school. There were some local chapters, but I was always kind of nervous to get involved. I knew that when I came to college it was something I wanted to get involved with.

Their mission is to build simple, safe, affordable, and decent homes for people. One of the mottos is: it’s not a hand-out, it’s a hand-up. The families are very involved with Habitat. They have to do between 300 and 450 sweat equity hours, and they work with the volunteers and the Habitat workers to help build the home.

It’s all about helping in any type of way. It’s not just building homes. There are a lot of small brackets of it that go to the same mission – ReStore, A Brush with Kindness, Cars for Homes.”

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Why did you decide to become President of Coe’s H4H Chapter?

“Working with people in Cedar Rapids who are associated with the affiliate, I knew leading Habitat was something I wanted to do. Their passion for Habitat was contagious. I fed off of that energy.

I liked that I could tangibly see that I could make a difference. I could participate in home builds and volunteer at the ReStore. I also could see the back-end of things, like meet families and learn about where dollar amounts go. So, that was really interesting to me.”

How has Coe’s H4H changed during your time at Coe?

“It’s grown a lot. My freshman year, there were only maybe five people. That included our adviser, the executive board, and maybe one or two other students. The good thing was, the students who were there were passionate, and they truly wanted to be there.

I made goals before I started my position sophomore year. One of those goals included recruitment and retaining new members. So, then, we had strong participation, and we had an active chapter of about 25 students.

I also saw that increase through Shack-a-Thon. My freshman year, we only had about three people sleeping out on the quad, and it was raining. My sophomore year, it took up more space on the quad.

Also, our fundraising level has increased. My freshman year, we raised a little over $200. Then, my sophomore year, we raised over $1,000. Obviously, it was everybody working together, and that was one of my goals – to get everyone to realize how much potential they have in making a difference. That really helped bring people together.”

What is your current role in Coe’s H4H?

“Right now, I’m Co-President with Bethany. We’re sharing responsibilities still, because I’m teaching her all the ins and outs. Since we are a chapter, we report to Habitat for Humanity International; we have to pay dues; and we pay a tithe every year to a different country. She’ll be leading again in the fall.”

What is next for your involvement with Habitat?

“The great thing about Habitat is they have affiliates everywhere. Wherever I’ll be next year, I know I’ll still be able to be involved. I hope to do another Global Village trip sometime in the near future.  I’ll still always have my connections at the Cedar Valley Habitat. Some of those people there kind of became family.”

What was a major challenge? How did you overcome it?

“I’d say a challenge is being in an organization where one of our main focuses is to not only let people know about the mission, but also fundraising. Figuring out creative ways to keep the campus and the community involved with fundraising without annoying them can be hard sometimes.

We tried to implement more advocacy and education tactics. We’ve been participating in Act, Speak, Build Week, which is for people to learn about the mission, the history, and how they can get involved.”

What has been a particularly rewarding moment?

 “There are so many great moments, because it’s such a good organization. I don’t even know how I’m going to pick one. I’ll give a little context, and then I’ll give an example.

You always go into these situations going – Oh, I’m going to help these people, and I’ll leave knowing I helped someone. Then, when you leave, it’s always that the people you volunteered for teach you so much more than you could possibly have given them through volunteering.With every Habitat experience I have, I always experience that more and more.



For me, the most valuable and touching experience during a Habitat build is when I get to work alongside one of the partner family members. Then, I can visibly see why I’m doing what I’m doing. It truly does make me happy, because they teach me so much, especially when they open up to me about their story and who they are. I also see the importance of the definition of home. Everybody wants all of the same basic needs. They’re just like me. We’re all equal.

In Nicaragua, I was building alongside Jennifer, a single mother who is 22, and I was 20 at the time. So, we were close in age, and that helped me relate to her more. I have a Spanish language background, but I’m not completely fluent in Spanish. So, there was a language barrier, but I still got to communicate with her through smiles and hugs and working alongside her. That was really valuable for me.”


What is the definition of “home”? Why are you building “homes,” not “houses,” with Habitat?

 “I associate home with being a warmer and more inviting term than house. When I describe a home, I think of a place that’s safe and comfortable, and a place where I can express myself and eat and sleep and do whatever I need to do. House, to me, is just a structure.

Every step of the way, the partner families are working with Habitat for Humanity. We’re constantly working together and building a relationship. So, with Habitat for Humanity, you’re building a home, because, along the way, the Habitat volunteers and the families are all part of a family together, and when I think of family, I think of a home.”







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