The Norman Transcript

October 26, 2011

OU students raise money, awareness at Shack-a-Thon

By James S. Tyree
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — One student group on the University of Oklahoma South Oval Tuesday morning had a guitar player strumming for attention; another brought a pair of Yorkshire terrier puppies.

“You just can’t say no to that face,” Domonick Cavallo said as he held a puppy inside a small red pail.

He was one of many OU students who took turns filling the South Oval for Shack-a-Thon, an annual event that raises funds for Cleveland County Habitat for Humanity. They started before 8 a.m. Tuesday, building makeshift shacks out of straight and boxed cardboard, wood and other materials, and asking passers-by for donations to Habitat for Humanity with mid to high levels of intensity.

Tracy Curtis, the agency’s executive director, said the annual event “is crucial” for her agency. Shack-a-thon last year raised more than $6,300.

“It takes $70,000 to fund a house and in today’s economic environment, it’s really hard to raise that amount of money,” Curtis said. “So for the students to work together on this is very important. It’s really empowering and the money will stay here in this area to help families.”

Amberleigh Jewart of Alpha Omicron Pi sorority said the giving Tuesday morning came in waves when students inundated the oval between classes.

Students took turns camping overnight on the South Oval, in and near their shacks, until this morning. Garrett Fox, a Purcell sophomore, remembers the experience from last year.

“It was cold, but a good time to study,” he said. “”I got a very, very, very small dose of what it’s like living without a home, at least for one night, sleeping on wet grass.”

Some students like Cavallo, an OU freshman and Norman North graduate, use gimmicks like his puppies to draw more attention — and donations.

“People come over and they give one a little pat, which makes them feel connected to the puppy and then we want them to give,” said Cavallo of Alpha Tau Omega fraternity.

Nic Tilton was distinctive in two ways: the Lambda Chi Alpha member is nicknamed “Gramps” because he is a 21-year-old pledge and Air Force veteran, and because he played his acoustic guitar while his fraternity brothers and Kappa Alpha Theta sorority members asked for donations.

“It’s a nice day; not rainy, and it’s nice to see so many people involved,” Tilton said.

Some shacks were cardboard boxes assembled together, other students nailed plywood or pieces of wood together to make sure the shack wouldn’t blow down on them. Members of the American Institute of Architecture Students raised the level of, well, architecture by constructing a sturdy house entirely of bamboo, twine and recycled cardboard.

“Nothing was bought; everything was found or cut down,” said Trent Still, the Oakland, Calif., freshman who designed the structure.

Regardless of how students made their shacks or asked for donations, Curtis said the event educates students and onlookers on what her agency is about. Blue signs with facts on homelessness and inadequate housing were planted around the South Oval’s grass perimeter throughout the Shack-a-thon event.

“It allows a younger audience to gain some awareness for the mission of Habitat for Humanity, and that is to eliminate substandard shelter from the face of the earth,” Curtis said.

James S. Tyree 366-3541 jtyree@normantranscript.com