We live to give, says Patrick Hart, who has always been a cheerful giver.

He volunteered at a hospital. Often he donated blood. And once, he flooded his community with fliers requesting old coats, then drove around town collecting 1,200 of them, which he donated to the Red Cross.

The son of a fireman and a nurse, Hart says: “I always saw my parents in service positions, always helping out, not expecting anything in return. I always wanted to be like them.”

Most recently, Hart, a 20-year-old junior from New Hyde Park, N.Y., gave up his spring break to participate in Habitat for Humanity, the international effort that brings volunteers together to build affordable housing. Along with senior Kyle Rattray, Hart organized a dozen MIT students, then rented a Budget van and drove 13 hours south to Huntington, West Virginia, where they spent a week building low-cost housing for a family in need.

The highlight of the week, he says, was meeting the family who’ll one day live in the house –– a waitress, a truck driver, and their two-year-old son. Together they all worked to drive nails, extend the flooring, haul Sheetrock, install insulation, and apply vinyl siding.

“There’s nothing better than giving someone what they really want and seeing how happy it makes them,” Hart says. “They kept saying, Thank you. We can’t believe that total strangers would give up their vacation to do manual labor for a whole week, so that we can have a house.’ Their sincere gratitude,” he says, “was in and of itself our reward.”

MUCH IS EXPECTED

“To whom much has been given, much is expected,” Hart is saying. “I really consider myself fortunate to be at MIT. I’ve been given so much –– so many skills, talents, gifts, great opportunities. I feel a responsibility to give back. Not everyone can go to MIT, but there’s no reason why we shouldn’t help someone else to have a house and to have an opportunity to live well.”

It is an idea that seems to make good sense. But Hart adds, not everyone in Huntington, West Virginia, was so open to the goodness of Hart and his MIT friends.

“When a few people found out we were from Boston, they were apprehensive,” he says. “Their attitude was ‘Damn Yankees. What are you kids doing down here, helping us?’

“But the more we talked,” Hart says, “the more their attitude changed. By the end of the week, they became very open. They wanted to know about us, where we went to school, what we wanted to do with our lives. Some of the people were in their forties and had never left the state. They wanted to know if we had traveled, and where we had been.”

It taught Hart a big lesson about giving, he says –– that perhaps the best way to help those who are less fortunate is simply to be a model for them of another possibility, to make them aware of a larger set of choices.

GREW CLOSER

By the end of the week, the MIT students also grew closer, he says.

“Before we went, I barely knew these students. Now I look at them as close friends. I got to know not only their interests, but also their beliefs. At night, we cooked together and laughed together. We slept in sleeping bags on the floor of a local Methodist church. It was a great shared experience.”

Some of his other friends, he says, thought he was crazy to give up his break. “Some said, ‘Do what’s good for you.’ But if everyone did only what was good for them, what kind of world would we live in?

“Some people feel that when you give, somehow you’re losing something. But the more you give, the more you receive.

“One of the most valuable things about giving is how it makes you feel about yourself. When you’re the kind of person who tries to fill others’ needs, you really feel a lot better.”