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FEMBA Students Build Hope and Opportunity, Volunteer with Habitat For Humanity

By Whitney Frasier

According to a recent report by, San Diego is the least affordable city in the country. In a region where affordable housing is desperately needed, California State University San Marcos (CSUSM) business students have stepped outside the classroom and into construction to build hope and opportunity for others.

When Lori Holt Pfeiler, the president and CEO for San Diego Habitat for Humanity (SDHFH) and Cal State San Marcos MBA alumna, spoke to CSUSM’s Fully-Employed Master of Business Administration (FEMBA) cohort about leadership and challenges in professional environments, they were inspired to team up with SDHFH for a group build day. Not only was volunteering the perfect opportunity to give back, but they were also aligning themselves with the College of Business Administration’s vision to build civic-minded, community engaged business leaders of tomorrow.

“Lori is an inspirational woman who has so many great business and educational lessons to share,” said Nicole Smith, a current FEMBA student who coordinated the CSUSM FEMBA Group Build Day. “Her stories about the families they’ve helped and how important Habitat is for the local community really made me want to volunteer.”

It was a sweltering day in August when the students arrived at the project site to build a home for an Escondido family. Although the temperature had exceeded 100 degrees, it didn’t stop them from getting to work.

“We did various projects on the home, from constructing cabinets to landscaping,” said Smith. “Several of the volunteers spent the day installing siding on the outside of the second floor of the house while others were painting and hammering.”

After almost nine hours in unforgiving heat, the 10-person team, including business professor Rajnandini “Raj” Pillai, completed what they set out to do: give back to a family in need.

“What I like about Habitat for Humanity is they are not offering handouts, they are providing families with tools to improve their situation,” said student Rosemary Reed. “By requiring work hours from each family, it truly gives the family a sense of pride of ownership in their home.”

The focus of Habitat is to create homes for ownership by low-income families in need. As part of the process, the families that partner with Habitat for Humanity are expected to repay through ‘sweat-equity’—volunteering 250 to 500 hours of labor in the construction of their own home—and via a zero percent interest, 25 to 30-year mortgage loan.

“Some people may not have the same capability to really advance in the workforce for a variety of reasons,” said Krista Samples, FEMBA student. “Programs like Habitat For Humanity understand that and help those who are not as capable.”

Habitat for Humanity relies heavily on volunteers, but their unique program allows people with no prior construction experience to assist in the process of building.

“I'm sure there is a dollar value you could put on the work we did,” said Smith. “If there were no volunteers, workers would have to be hired and that can be incredibly expensive. It felt great to just give back. We got to meet the family who was getting the house next to the one we were building, and that really made the project personal and more rewarding.”

Since 1988 SDHFH has built more than 200 homes throughout the county. A dedication ceremony for the house the students assisted with took place on November 22. Meanwhile, the cohort is expected to graduate from their 18-month program in December.

“Being able to share this experience with my classmates made it so much more meaningful as we had been through so much in terms of studying and gaining knowledge together in the MBA program,” said Samples. “It was very rewarding as we were able to see the efforts of our labor as we were doing it.”