On a hot, steamy August morning, players with FGCU’s women’s softball team gathered to face off against one of the most formidable opponents of the season: the affordable housing crisis.
Swapping their bats and gloves for hammers and nails, they slathered on sunscreen as dawn broke over a concrete slab on an empty lot in Cape Coral. Then they went to work, changing the life of a single mom hoping for a safe, stable and affordable home for her family.
“I feel like this is just what we’re made to do as people, help each other out,” said senior Caridad Estes, who plays first base. “It’s really hard getting up and going out to do something this early in the morning, but the feeling you get after is unmatched, knowing that you made someone’s day and possibly someone’s whole life.”
This is the second year Estes joined the team volunteering with Habitat for Humanity of Lee and Hendry Counties. On this day, National Women’s Equality Day, she and her teammates worked shoulder-to-shoulder with future homeowner Jennifer Silva.
“I’m very grateful for FGCU’s women’s softball team for helping build my house,” Silva said. “Women can do it. It’s not only men. I’ve learned from this program that women can build, too!”
With the help of the women’s softball team, Silva’s dream of moving out of her parents’ home and giving her son his own room will soon become a reality. Silva plans to buy her affordable home through Habitat, which can keep construction costs low because of the volunteers.
For first-year college student and outfielder Lexi Cowles, the wall-raising provided an excellent hands-on learning opportunity. The civil engineering major plans to minor in construction management.
“As a young kid, I liked building things with Legos, and then I experimented with wooden things, just like small little creations,” said Cowles. “Then I thought, what if I go on a bigger scale? I haven’t tried, but that’s the goal.”
With all the exterior home walls up by the end of the morning, Cowles achieved that goal.
Most students at FGCU are required to complete 80 service-learning hours before graduating. Sports teams like women’s softball enjoy volunteer opportunities where the entire team can participate at once to help the team bond while serving the community.
“I think that the players are challenged by some of the construction tasks, but they are enjoying the process, and they know it’s for a really good cause,” said assistant coach Cat Clifford.
But volunteering out in the blazing sun is more than just building a home. For Clifford, it’s about making good citizens.
“Softball is one thing, but being a good person, doing the right thing, and doing the right thing for others is something that you have to do for the rest of your life,” she explained. “The woman getting this house, it’s going to be a huge life change for her, and it’s something that’s going to be really rewarding for the players.”
As noon approached and the construction started to wrap up, the team had one more job. Players left a message of goodwill and hope on the walls they helped raise. These messages will live on for years, underneath the drywall and paint, leaving an indelible impact on Silva, who says she will forever be an Eagles fan.
You can catch the FGCU softball players on the field starting in February 2024.