Spotlight: Meaghan Kearns ’05
Home is Where the Heart Is
by Valerie Esposito
Nearly 1.3 billion people live in poverty around the world, including an estimated 100 million who are homeless. One of the most common causes is a lack of affordable housing. The United Nations has found that if all housing could be brought to a minimum acceptable standard, there would be 5 million fewer deaths annually on a global basis.
Since 1976, Habitat for Humanity has built, repaired and rehabilitated 800,000 homes worldwide. By using volunteer labor and donations, Habitat for Humanity builds homes for partner families who can then purchase the houses through no-profit, no-interest mortgage loans or innovative financing methods.
Inspired during her years at St. Joseph’s College to help others, alumna Meaghan Kearns ’05 recently traveled to Braga, Portugal, where she and a team of nine other Habitat volunteers spent a few weeks building homes for families in need.
While working toward a B.A. in Speech Communications on the Long Island Campus, Kearns was an active member of the Dean's Service Circle, through which she discovered her passion for volunteering, a passion that she knows will last her a lifetime.
“In 2011, with my 30th birthday approaching, I decided to spend it doing something for someone less fortunate than myself,” Kearns said. “Now, every year on my birthday, I focus on my blessings and the gift of life, rather than a number.”
While searching on the Internet one day, Kearns stumbled upon Habitat for Humanity International’s website by pure chance. It was there that she learned about an upcoming trip to Portugal around her birthday. She immediately filled out an application and was accepted to take part in the trip.
“Going into this experience, I hoped to help a family in need and remind myself that I have so many things to be grateful for,” Kearns said. “I wanted to connect with people of another culture and even now, I remain in contact with many of the other volunteers and the host coordinator in Portugal. We all have a special bond and I’ve learned that when you live in contribution, you learn so much about yourself in the process.”
All around the world, Habitat builds houses designed for the local setting that they are working in. Costs are kept low by using locally available materials and construction techniques that conserve natural resources and reduce long-term costs for Habitat homeowners. In addition, each family is given a low- or no-interest loan from Habitat to finance their mortgage. Habitat’s goal is to empower families and uses the money from these mortgages toward the cost of building homes for other members of the community.
As a volunteer, Kearns worked with her team daily from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. and was in charge of mixing and sifting cement that would later be applied to the interior walls of the house. The house was completed and the family moved in four weeks after Kearns’ team left Portugal.
“The experience was challenging and the language barriers were difficult to overcome,” Kearns said. “But what I remember most about the trip was the family whose house we were building. They were amazing and so gracious for our help. Knowing how much their lives would change from this, really moved me.”
Now that Kearns has returned to American soil and her job as a licensed and certified speech and language pathologist for the Developmental Disabilities Institute, an agency that services individuals with developmental disabilities, she plans to continue her work with Habitat for Humanity by attending one building trip per year.
“I learned so many things during my trip to Portugal,” Kearns said. “To see how people lived with so much less than we have, and how loving and happy they were, was admirable. One day, we climbed a mountain and looked out over the countryside. It was so peaceful, and it was then that I realized I was looking at the world from a different view, and finally began to understand how big our world really is.”
After graduating from SJC, Kearns went on to earn an M.S. in Communication Sciences and Disorders at Adelphi University and is also a certified teacher of students with speech and language disabilities. When she is not working or volunteering, Kearns pursues her passion for other languages and cultures. She is currently studying Spanish, and once she becomes fluent, she plans to learn Portuguese. Kearns also volunteers for Last Chance Animal Rescue and New York Cares.
In all of her endeavors, Kearns demonstrates the spirit of social responsibility and service that SJC works to instill in its students. For future generations, she offers this advice: “You create your life and everything about it. Everything is a choice, even happiness so don’t focus on what you think you need to do or what you want to have, focus on who you’re being. We can truly do anything we want.”
For more information about Habitat for Humanity, to make a donation or to volunteer for a local project, visit Kearns’ page.