Published: Mar 09, 2011 7:32 PM EST
Updated: Mar 09, 2011 4:37 PM EST

ATHENS, Ga.- They might be mortal enemies on the football field, but students from Vanderbilt University and the University of Florida are willing to pitch in to help Athenians in need.

About 15 students from the University of Georgia's SEC rivals are spending their spring break this week volunteering for Athens Area Habitat for Humanity, renovating apartments and building houses in East Athens.

"We dominated them before, so we can help them now," joked Pamela Cayemitte, a Florida senior.

Cayemitte and her classmates are in Athens as part of Habitat International's Collegiate Challenge, a program that sends college students to work on Habitat projects during spring break.

"I was trying to find something useful to do on spring break, to use my time wisely," said another Florida student, Scott Brown.

Next week, students from Suffolk University in Boston are scheduled to arrive.

The volunteers are helping to renovate 16 apartments off East Broad Street for ReNew Athens, an offshoot of Habitat that focuses on rental units. The two-bedroom apartments will rent for $350 to $424 per month or no more than 30 percent of tenants' income, Executive Director Spencer Frye said.

The first tenants - a homeless husband and wife who are living in shelters and making ends meet recycling scrap metal - will move in next week and serve as caretakers, Frye said.

"Then we can potentially move them into home ownership," he said.

Volunteers are also working on two Habitat houses in Carpenter's Circle, a small seven-house subdivision off Burney Street. One will belong to Tina Steele, a hospital cook and Habitat volunteer, and her 10-year-old son.

"They are amazing, every group that comes out," Steele said.

When they're not hammering nails and painting walls, Collegiate Challenge participants sleep at Milledge Avenue Baptist Church and shower at the Athens YMCA. They provide their own transportation, and local restaurants are donating meals.

In their spare time, students said they plan to tour the UGA campus and check out the downtown Athens bar scene.

"Athens is a destination location," Frye said. "We have people constantly wanting to come here."

Both Carpenter's Circle and the East Broad apartments are in what was once one of the highest-crime neighborhoods in Athens, but the area is changing. Police records now show fewer crimes around the developments than on surrounding blocks. Habitat's tenant screening, property management and strict lease agreements should lead to even lower crime rates, according to Athens-Clarke Assistant Police Chief Alan Brown.

"I think it's made a huge impact on stabilizing the neighborhood," Frye said.

Habitat also has its eye on other nearby properties, like a row of duplexes on Simmons Street, Frye said.

"What I'm doing is going through here and picking out houses where we know there's drug activity or it's boarded up," he said.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)