Parents Weekend gets in philanthropic spirit

W&L’s Habitat Hotel offers homes to parents in exchange for donations during Parents Weekend


Kevin Remington

Families enjoy time together during Parents Weekend. Photo by Ellen Kanzinger ‘18.

Hundreds of parents flock to Lexington during Parents Weekend at Washington and Lee, booking area hotels to near capacity. But for those who cannot get a room reservation or just want a more community-oriented alternative, there is the “Habitat Hotel” project.

Habitat Hotel, led by W&L’s student-run Habitat for Humanity chapter, raises money for Habitat for Humanity by enlisting faculty, staff and Lexington residents to open their homes to parents during Parents Weekend. In exchange for the stay, the parents make a donation to the Rockbridge Area Habitat for Humanity.

Chapter co-chairs Caroline Sanders, ’17, and Alexandra Lee, ’17, say that the program has been on the rise, both in popularity and impact.

“I believe the program was started about 8 years ago,” Lee said. “It started with only a few families [and] it’s grown tremendously these past few years. Our long term goal is to continue this program as long as possible.”

According to Sanders, during parent’s weekend of 2015, at least $19,000 was raised for Habitat for Humanity through the Habitat Hotel project—a huge increase from the $15,000 raised in 2014. It costs about $60,000 to build one home for a local, low-income family.

“In the future, we hope to raise even more,” Sanders said.

Sanders and Lee say parents choose to participate in the program for a variety of reasons.

“Sometimes people choose Habitat Hotel because they can’t find a hotel,” Sanders said. “The hotels in Lexington fill up really quickly for parents weekend. Other times they’re really excited to donate to the cause.”

Some parents sign up for Habitat Hotel for more personal reasons.

“Parents also do Habitat Hotel because they’ve been in an area of conflict, like [New Orleans], or because their son or daughter was involved [in Habitat for Humanity] in high school,” Lee said.

Tricia Aiken and her husband, parents of Philip Aiken, ‘17, and W&L graduate Rachel Aiken, ‘13, are staying with a Habitat Hotel host for the fourth year in a row.

“I cannot recommend this program enough as a way to meet some fun and different folks who are part of the Lexington community,” said Tricia Aiken.

Three out of the four years the Aikens have participated in Habitat Hotel, they have stayed with the same family: The Riethmillers.

“They are warm and inviting and make us feel completely at home,” Tricia Aiken said of their hosts.

Peggy Riethmiller says that the experience can be equally as enjoyable as a host.

“It is a great way to meet a W&L family,” said Riethmiller. “Friendships have been formed that last beyond the students’ four years.”

Riethmiller also said that Habitat Hotel is the biggest fundraiser for the student and local Habitat for Humanity chapter.

Already in preparation for Parents weekend 2017, Sanders and Lee have set up new students to help for next year’s Habitat Hotel for after they graduate.