Hiram College

Emily Smerchansky ’13 has never built anything using tools before. She’s never been out of the country, and the last Spanish lesson she had was in high school.

But the psychology major has a big heart and a strong desire to make a difference in others’ lives – and that’s prepared her for her Habitat for Humanity trip to Guatemala she is taking July 16-29.

Smerchansky first got involved with helping the less fortunate during her senior year of high school. After taking a tour of the Second Harvest Foodbank of the Mahoning Valley, near her hometown Girard, the number of people living in poverty hit home for her, so she took action.

A basketball player, she created a website, www.basketsforfood.com, where fans could pledge to donate canned goods or money for every point she scored in a particular game.

She decided on Habitat for Humanity as her next big service project after her father returned from a similar Habitat trip to Guatemala and wanted to share the experience with his daughter.

“My dad fell in love with (Guatemala),” she said. “He told me all the stories about the kids and how welcoming they are. They come to you and they feel bad that you’re doing this for them. They’re humble, but they’re really grateful that you’re there.”

Guatemala is unlike other Habitat for Humanity sites because the country’s resources are limited. Instead of building homes with wood and power tools, they’ll be using cinder blocks and machetes to do the work. Smerchansky said she is excited to step up to the challenge, hoping her athletic skills will help her out.

“It’s different, but I’m ready for it,” she said.

More than anything else, she’s looking forward to experiencing a new culture, interacting with the people and the feeling she’ll get knowing she was able to help them out.

“I’m excited to learn the culture,” she said, “seeing how we live and seeing how they live, and realizing you shouldn’t take anything for granted. I’m looking forward to how grateful they’re going to be.”

Smerchansky has already bought outdoor toys like jump ropes and bubbles to bring to the Guatemalan children. She said she thinks she’d like to focus her future career in psychology on kids, so she is excited about the interaction she’ll have with them on this trip.

She said she thinks the Hiram education she’s had so far has given her the motivation to do a project like this on her own.

“I like how the community is so close and everyone’s willing to help you,” she said. “I feel like it makes the students want to work harder.”

If you are, or know of, a Hiram student who is making a difference or doing something unique this summer, please e-mail stavaleca@hiram.edu with information so that we can feature your work.