Senior Cayla Jones, vice president of Ithaca College’s Habitat for Humanity chapter, has been working with Second Wind Cottages, a housing program for unhoused individuals.
Apart from being involved with Habitat for Humanity, Jones is the co-president of the college’s Student Occupational Therapy Association, a buildings and operations manager at the Fitness Center and a member of the Amani Gospel Singers choir. Jones is preparing to graduate and transition to obtain her master’s from the college’s Occupational Therapy program.
Assistant News Editor Prakriti Panwar spoke with Jones about her passion for affordable housing and her experience giving back to Habitat for Humanity, an organization that played a significant role in her personal life.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Prakriti Panwar: Is there a specific reason why you joined IC’s Habitat for Humanity, or is there a motivation behind it?
Cayla Jones: I grew up in New Jersey and my mom is a single mom of four girls. And we actually built our house with Habitat for Humanity. I grew up with my mom always volunteering for Habitat and then eventually she applied to the lottery because that’s how these houses are assigned to families. And my mom built the home that we currently live in with Habitat and so I have been directly impacted by Habitat’s mission and the work that I’ve done with volunteers, just the kindness of their own hearts. And I didn’t even second guess it. I had to get involved and have to keep this going and do for others what was done for me, and I like giving back, and so I’ve been a part of the club for four years, and I plan to volunteer with Habitat for the rest of my life.
PP: How do you fulfill Habitat for Humanity’s vision and mission towards the college chapter specifically?
CJ: So with the IC chapter specifically, the goal is to connect students to the community and to opportunities to give back and help. My role with the club is to send emails out and just inform everyone about events and meetings and spread the word about different ways people can get involved. So that role of mine is something I like to take very seriously and love to do. … I’m the one usually going through the emails and kind of coordinating who we’re going to tell and how we’re gonna tell them and I think it’s important to deliver the messages and deliver these opportunities in exciting and fun and light ways. We’re all college students and we all have a lot to do and can get very busy. So, my general goal is to just make volunteering — getting involved — less of a chore and more something that’s fun and something that is very low stakes and good for all parties involved.
PP: What has IC’s Habitat for Humanity’s greatest achievement been so far?
CJ: I would say our greatest achievement is probably our collaborative work with Second Wind Cottages. … We are very close with a couple of the coordinators and executive directors of Second Wind and we have been donating a lot of materials and time and students to Second Wind. I think that collaboration — it’s relatively new — and I think it’s one of our most successful connections and achievements just because it is … more Ithaca-specific. So the population we are reaching out to are people who are directly affected by homelessness and people who are unhoused and currently don’t have homes. And so it perfectly encapsulates what our mission as a club is but it’s not through Habitat. So it’s another opportunity for people to get involved. I think maintaining those relationships and maintaining those projects and getting involved in expanding our work with Second Wind Cottages is our greatest achievement for sure. We’ve done a lot of donating and fundraising and hands-on work with them. … This past fall, we got weekly trips to Second Wind going. Our club … had a large amount of money to donate from a prior member’s family. So we used those funds and donated to Second Wind to build a shed or like a shack, almost. We provided the lumber, we provided all the tools to build the shack and then also the labor. So that project started [in] September and the donating process and communicating happened probably a year ago. But hands-on stuff started this past fall and so that project was awesome because we got some Habitat members from Cornell’s campus to get involved in coming and building and we were working on getting lighting into the shed.
PP: How do you think that students outside of your organization can advocate for affordable housing?
CJ: Affordable housing is a need in Ithaca and New York State in general. Homelessness is a massive problem in the U.S. … I think students just being aware of the homelessness crisis and advocating and holding conversations about it is very important as well as connecting with the people who are unhoused. I mean it doesn’t have to be these huge strokes that students are making where we’re like, standing in City Hall and we are going to Congress members and going to the local politicians. All that stuff is amazing and great, but in the grand scheme of things, they’re not sustainable for my workload, at least, and I’m sure many others would say the same. So personally, what I tried to do was just get involved in small ways. So showing up to volunteer and work with members of the community. With Second Wind we have game nights where students are able to just go with the members that are living in these cottages and are being housed by Second Wind and just kind of connecting and creating those relationships and being that support and the support is transactional. It’s not just students providing support, it’s also those adults providing … motivation to the students. I think the smallest, but most significant way for students to contribute and to take a part in affordable housing and reducing homelessness in this country is just to connect with one another. And just notice and recognize that those who are homeless aren’t invisible because that’s kind of how they treat it.
PP: What do you see happening to Habitat for Humanity once you graduate?
CJ: Right now we’re holding elections. … We’re looking to pass the club down to people who are passionate and willing to continue working toward this mission of contributing and connecting with the Ithaca community. So we, as an e-board, are trying to now advertise and find people who are passionate about helping others. … What we expect next year is to continue this Second Wind collaboration and partnership and also hopefully a break trip is planned next year. Habitat usually sends a bunch of students to another state to work and build homes with that week that students have off. That is always a super meaningful experience for those involved and ever since COVID, we haven’t had the ‘big trip’ back up and running. So that’s something I’m hoping the club gets to pick back up and gets to continue to contribute to, as well as continuing to get involved with builds all around Ithaca and making sure that the Habitat chapter of Ithaca, and also just Ithaca College’s chapter, providing housing and support in peaceful and non-problematic ways to make sure everyone’s able to get access to housing in a way that is morally proficient for all. … We recently had just gotten a new adviser and our adviser is also the coordinator of the food pantry on campus. … She, I think, is going to play a big role in continuing this club.