SMU math professor Douglas Reinelt is the first to admit he spends most of his week behind his desk in Clements Hall or in front of a whiteboard. But nearly every Saturday, you’ll find Reinelt at a Habitat for Humanity construction site, working toward completing another home for a worthy family to add to the over 200 homes he has built with the organization in the past 23 years.
“Habitat gets you out of your normal community to serve and help someone else. You get to meet a lot of like-minded, service-oriented people with good hearts and you get to see what impact the house and the help has on a family,” Reinelt said.
Reinelt, faculty advisor to the SMU Habitat for Humanity student volunteer group, explained that SMU students and nearby Highland Park United Methodist Church have paired up to build houses each February for the last 12 years.
Continuing the tradition, over 80 SMU students volunteered Saturday on-site to help construct affordable housing for a Dallas low-income family.
“The first house we built with SMU was constructed in an empty lot by the Dedman Center and was moved in the middle of the night after it was finished to a more appropriate neighborhood,” Reinelt said.
A standard Habitat for Humanity house takes only eight to 10 weeks to complete, according to Reinelt, who served as a truss builder during his early years with the organization.
After becoming more and more involved in the organization, which he described as a hand-up rather than a hand-out service group, Reinelt decided to serve as a house leader. In his current position, he instructs and oversees all volunteers at one specific site until the house is fully completed.
Reinelt estimated that he has helped build anywhere from 200 to 300 houses during his time with Habitat for Humanity.
“It’s just awesome to work with Professor Reinelt,” said former SMU Habitat for Humanity president and senior Hayley Carpenter. “He is so passionate and inspires students to get involved. You know, building a house seems hard but it is honestly one of the most fun things I’ve ever done. At the end of the day, seeing the part of the roof you finished is really rewarding.”
Besides helping students build homes around the Dallas area, Reinelt is working with HPUMC to reach their goal of 100 homes by the time the church celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2016. The church, which has named the outreach “Carpenters for Christ,” has just completed houses 90 and 91 with the help of SMU volunteers.
The calculus and differential equations professor said that Habitat gives him an opportunity not only to interact with community members, but also with current and former students in a different setting.
In the past, Reinelt has taken SMU students to Paraguay, El Salvador and Costa Rica with Habitat for Humanity, building houses and interacting with the communities.
“It only takes about 10 days to build a house in those countries because the houses are appropriate for that location. They’re smaller, more simple and they fit in with the other homes in the community,” Reinelt said.
Reinelt explained Habitat for Humanity does not simply give away homes. Homeowners must put in 250 hours of what the organization calls “sweat equity,” working side by side with the volunteers to build their home from the foundation up.
Expected to attend budgeting classes and pay a no-interest mortgage, Habitat for Humanity families learn how to become successful homeowners with the help of the volunteers and the organization.
“Habitat allows me to get out into a community I don’t really interact with and serve, doing something hands on that will help a family,” Reinelt said.