Overcoming Heartbreak. Building Hope.
Habitat Chicago has had thousands of volunteers work determinedly to see our mission succeed, each coming to us for unique and beautiful reasons. This January, a group got out on the build site to celebrate the memory of a friend whose life was taken far too soon. We asked team leader Sanskruti Patel to tell their story and this is it.
“We all knew Vihang in our own unique ways, most of us first meeting him in high school or on campus at the University of Illinois. Regardless of how you knew him, Vihang Patel was the type of person that left an impression on you after the first encounter. Although his wide eyes and contagious smile were both captivating, what people took away from their interactions with Vihang was just how much of a giver he was. Whether it was the first time you had class with him or the fiftieth time you went over to his apartment for dinner, Vihang would bend over backwards for you. You could always go to Vihang for help on anything. Sometimes you just needed advice on a personal matter and you knew Vihang would drop anything he was doing to patiently listen to you. Sometimes, especially after a long day of class, all you wanted to do was to unwind or just find someone to laugh with, the first person to come to mind was always Vihang. You also knew that if you went over to Vihang’s place hungry he would feed you until you were stuffed, just as if he was an 80-year-old Indian grandmother. His heart was bigger than his smile (and his perception of our appetites) and we were all lucky to have had him in our lives.
We all knew Vihang was going to do amazing thing with his life. He was brilliant and hardworking. He was also incredibly dedicated to his family, friends and his faith. He was the type of person that was making his corner of the world a better place, and we knew he would continue to do so even after our time together at U of I. As idealistic young college students we never imagined that we would lose such a dear friend as such a young age. We never imagined that Vihang’s life would be cut short, but it was, and we all dealt with the grief in different ways. What began as intense mourning slowly turned into acceptance and ultimately a desire to do something to remember him, to commemorate his legacy. A few of us came up with the idea that we would try to annually meet up to do a service project, what we ended up calling ‘Volunteering for Vihang – V4V’. Every year, around Vihang’s birthday, we try to find a service project that would allow us to unconditionally give to others, the way that Vihang lived his life.
We all still feel his loss but helping build someone’s home was the perfect way for us to remember Vihang and his legacy. We are so thankful that Habitat gave us this opportunity and look forward to partnering again with this great organization. We had signed up to volunteer around Vihang’s birthday, knowing that it would be cold and much easier to do this type of volunteer project in the spring or summer. Although we had readied ourselves to become ‘Winter Warriors’, it turned out that we got lucky. It was 45 degrees and sunny on the Saturday we volunteered in West Pullman, and considering it was January in Chicago, it seemed like a little more than just pure luck. We couldn’t help but think this was Vihang’s way of looking down on us and continuing to take care of us.”
The Habitat Chicago family is truly humbled and proud to have been included in such a beautiful tradition. We did not know Vihang, but we are thankful for the extraordinary life he led and the legacy of hope and friendship he has left behind.