ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFKnights.com) -- Rhonza turned her car down College Drive on a flawlessly sunny day just as she has done so many times over the last few months.
She and her three youngest sons regularly swing by in the afternoon to see the progress being made on their new home. This time she was solo, and she knew something was different the moment the house came into view.
"When I came and saw all these cars I was like, `Oh my gosh. Oh boy, what's going on?' I got out of my car because I wanted to give my story, and I just wanted to thank everybody and thank Habitat (for Humanity)," Rhonza said.
A group of UCF's Everyday Champion student-athletes and several staff members spent May 5 breaking a sweat for the Women Build project with Habitat for Humanity. Along with roughly 60 women from other organizations like Lowe's, CNL Financial Group and Florida Hospital, UCF was represented by seven female student-athletes from the rowing, golf, women's basketball, volleyball, tennis and spirit teams.
Rhonza insisted on hugging each individual at the construction site. As she stood back to admire their work, she couldn't stop herself from tearing up.
"To see her smile, I can only imagine what it feels like to see your house being built by so many workers that are here together," rowing team captain Rachael Klunder said. "The walls were built [with a sense] of community."
Rhonza has been employed with Florida Hospital for more than 10 years. A Navy veteran, she put herself through nursing school while raising her four sons. She currently shares a two-bedroom townhouse with her three youngest sons and sleeps on the couch because there isn't enough room for everyone. She has also supported her oldest son, Saivon, a brain cancer survivor.
She learned about the Habitat program three years ago. They enrolled her in classes that taught her about home ownership. She also invested 300 hours of required "sweat equity" --time spent building her own home or other Habitat homes.
"I've been through a lot to get here. A lot of tragedies in between, but Habitat, they worked wonderfully with me. I'm just very thankful and very grateful to everybody," Rhonza said. "It just shows that people love one another. When you help yourself, you can get help. ... For my Florida Hospital people to be here and partnering with UCF, it's an awesome experience."
At the Women Build project, the group's main job was to put siding on the exterior of the house. They divided and conquered the house, and UCF was responsible for the front walls. The Knights measured and cut wood, carried lumber and worked as a team to hammer in the panels.
Mary Mulcahy, who was part of the Knights Without Borders group that built a multi-purpose sports court in Costa Rica, thought it was a perfect way to spend her time just one day before she was set to receive her UCF diploma in her cap and gown.
"Not only have I got a great education and had a great time in sports, I've also learned that one of my biggest passions in life is volunteering and community service," Mulcahy said. "To be involved in a project like this right before I graduate, it's icing on the cake to a great four years at UCF. I'm really thankful for all the opportunities like this that I've gotten to be a part of."
Before the day was done, the team went inside the house with a couple of black permanent markers in hand. The interior is not much to look at yet, but that's not why they were there.
The student-athletes were eager to leave their messages just as those before them had done. Some messages are scrawled on the window frames. Others are on narrow posts meant to outline the layout of the house.
They say things like, "Best wishes to you and your family" or "God Bless this home and all that enter."
Each Everyday Champion scrawled her name underneath a unifying message:
"UCF loves you."
List of UCF's volunteers
Shelby Foyer, volleyball
Rachael Klunder, rowing
Mary Mulcahy, women's golf
Cortney Cesarini, women's tennis
Monica Matias,women's tennis
Cortney Scozzaro, spirit
Joslyn Massey, women's basketball
Brandi Stuart, senior associate A.D.
Jenna Marina, communications
Samantha Visco, athletic trainer
Teresa Brown, student-athlete welfare & development
Jennifer Maurer, volleyball associate head coach