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W&L's Habitat Hotel Helps Build a House

Each year, the number of Washington and Lee University parents who descend on the college for the annual Parents and Family Weekend places a strain on the capacity of hotels in Lexington, Va.  So for the past five years, the University has joined forces with the local Habitat for Humanity to create an alternative called Habitat Hotel.

The program asks Lexington residents and members of the W&L faculty and staff to welcome parents into their homes for the weekend. In return for a bed, fresh linens, access to a guest bathroom and maybe a morning cup of coffee, the parents donate $150 per room to the local Habitat chapter.

In past years, an average of 22 families, mostly couples, took advantage of the program. But this year the number of parents at Habitat Hotel almost doubled, to 45 families, and raised approximately $15,000 for Habitat.

“That’s one quarter of the cost of materials to build a house,” said Sy Hughes, development specialist at Habitat, who organized the fund-raising event on the Habitat side. His task was to find host families in the community. Meanwhile, student members of the W&L chapter of Habitat for Humanity got the word out to parents. Laura Ellis ’14 was in charge of reservations. “The students did a bang-up job this year,” said Hughes.

Hughes said he found 35 Lexington families to take part in the event, with some hosting more than one couple. “To be honest, the parents are really busy that weekend. They get up early, are on campus all day and come back fairly late in the evening,” he said.

“The program is a lifesaver to those parents who realize at the last minute they can attend but are unable to find motel rooms, or to those parents who just want to stay with a local family,” commented Nellie Rice, executive assistant to the vice president for student affairs and dean of students, and coordinator of Parents and Family Weekend. “After staying with a local family, they want to come back to that same family year after year. I daresay that the 45 families who participated in Habitat Hotel this year will want to continue with the program until their student graduates. And it is a great help to me knowing that we have this program we can suggest to parents.”

Another advantage of Habitat Hotel, Hughes added, is that although the students work on building Habitat houses and raising funds year-round, “this event brings us all together and is one of the most fun things we do, because the community works with the students.”