Housing Advocacy from Saint Peter to Capitol Hill

Gustavus junior Marie Osuna reflects on a recent trip to Washington D.C. to advocate for affordable housing with Habitat for Humanity.
Posted on February 17th, 2020 by

Marie Osuna (front row, third from right) and Amy Pehrson (back row, second from left) with Senator Tina Smith and fellow Habitat for Humanity Advocates.

Marie Osuna (front row, third from right) and Amy Pehrson (back row, second from left) with Senator Tina Smith and fellow Habitat for Humanity Advocates.

While all my friends and fellow Gustavus Adolphus College students packed their backpacks and headed out for the first day of spring semester classes, I was packing up my suitcase and heading for the airport. Instead of sitting in my classes for the first week, I flew to Washington D.C. alongside Amy Pehrson, Director of the Community Engagement Center, for a different kind of education at Habitat on the Hill, Habitat for Humanity’s national conference. 

Marie Osuna in front of the U.S. Capitol.

Marie Osuna in front of the U.S. Capitol.

I have been involved with Gustavus’s Habitat chapter since my first year of college, when I went on my first spring break trip to Taos, New Mexico. I fell in love with the nonprofit organization the first time I stepped onto a build site, learning quickly how big of a difference I could make just by using my own two hands.

Two years later, I serve as a co-president for the Gustavus chapter alongside incredible leader and friend Abbie Biegner. This year for spring break, Gustavus will be sending about 70 students to four different locations across the country: Tucker, Georgia; Georgetown, Delaware; Hattiesburg, Mississippi; and Newland, North Carolina. I am excited to be going to North Carolina!

But this trip to Washington D.C. wasn’t going to be the typical kind of Habitat trip I’m used to, consisting of hammers and dusty build sites. In D.C., I learned more about the work Habitat does worldwide, and the impact advocacy and voting have on the well-known organization.

After spending the whole first day of the conference listening to Habitat volunteers, homeowners, and affiliates from across the country talk about what they need from elected officials to ensure that people everywhere can affordable housing, I woke up on Wednesday morning feeling ready to talk about Habitat to everyone on Capitol Hill. In front of the United States Capitol building, I stepped out of my comfort zone and attended my very first rally, advocating for affordable housing and spreading awareness about the work Habitat for Humanity does. It was amazing to hear members of Congress from across the political spectrum deliver speeches in support of our mission. In such a divided world, Habitat is something everyone seems to agree on. 

Marie Osuna (center) and Amy Pehrson (right) advocate alongside a fellow Habitat for Humanity volunteer.

Marie Osuna (center) and Amy Pehrson (right) advocate alongside CEO of Habitat for Humanity International, Jonathan Reckford

After the rally, I attended five back-to-back meetings with various Minnesota representatives (well, mostly their legislative aides, but that’s the reality of advocacy work, I learned). However, I was so excited that we were able to meet with Senator Tina Smith in person, and I even got the chance to tell her about all the incredible Gustavus students who are passionate Habitat volunteers.

During the first few meetings, I felt nervous and mostly let others do the talking. But I soon quickly learned that those in office are interested in what students have to say. I would get questions about my major and job plans, and of course my role in Habitat. In every meeting, I felt myself becoming more confident and better able to articulate how policy changes on the House and Senate floors are able to make a difference, even for student volunteers.

In just a few short days, I found my voice in D.C. and was able to use it to advocate for others.

The skills I learned at Habitat on the Hill can be used in so many other ways, but I’m most excited to take my skills home and teach others about leadership, advocacy, and how one person can make an impact in this big world. It’s a lot of hard work, but the process is actually rather simple: educate yourself on the issue, be clear about what you need, and take your seat at the table without hesitation. You belong to be there.


Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin


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