NHS students expect to build houses, friendships on Habitat for Humanity trip

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 10, 2001

Hammer and nail will take on new meaning for two Natchez teens this summer. They will learn the importance of a firm foundation and team work. They will build houses and, they expect, new friendships.

Michael Easton and Colton Freeman, both 10th-graders at Natchez High School, will participate in Habitat for Humanity programs on full scholarships, each for two weeks, Michael in Greenville, N.C., in June, and Colton in Anniston, Ala., in July.

They are the only Mississippi students chosen to participate in the two domestic programs taking place this summer.

The two youths applied for the scholarships through participation in the Learn and Serve program at the high school. They were chosen from applicants from throughout the country. Each will be part of a group of 16 young people, ages 16 to 18, from diverse backgrounds, who will build a house for the Habitat program.

Both admit being a little nervous but, more important, very excited by the opportunity. &uot;The Learn and Serve program has prepared us for this,&uot; Michael said. &uot;We’ve learned about working together.&uot; Colton agreed, saying the Learn and Serve program, in its first year at the high school, has brought together students who otherwise might not have known each other.

Making new friends will be a familiar pleasure. Diversity is more than just a word to them now. So is service. And this summer there is the word blitz.

The two weeks each teen will spend in service is part of the Habitat for Humanity Summer Youth Blitz, now in its eighth year and sponsored through private foundations of the Pritzker-Cousins and Kerrigan families.

&uot;We’ll work 8 to 4:30 every day. We’ll blitz-build,&uot; said Michael, smiling as he acknowledged that the concept was new but appealing – rushed building, that is. The groups will see the project completed by the end of the two weeks.

Colton said completion of the house in two weeks will be a challenge he expects to enjoy. &uot;I like working with other people, and I will like helping people who need a home,&uot; he said. He is confident about his abilities to help in the construction, as he has just completed a building course during the past school year and also has experience working with his father, who is a builder.

The working youth will find only the finished concrete foundation of a house when they arrive at the construction sites. Unlike Colton, most of the teens will have little or no building experience or skills. The students will take part in a fast-paced orientation, including safety rules. Working alongside adult volunteers, they will donate about eight hours to the project each day.

In the first week, the builders will frame the walls, set trusses, sheath the roof, install electricity, rough in the plumbing, hang sheetrock and install siding, among other things. In the second week, they will paint the interior, clean and prepare floors, install porch rails and steps, hang interior doors, finish the electrical and plumbing work, install door fixtures, trim the interior, install gutters, landscape the yard and put in ceiling installation. Students will be on hand for dedication of the house, also.

Michael was familiar with the Habitat for Humanity program before applying for the summer scholarship. &uot;My neighbor, Mr. Andrew Calvit, is involved in the Natchez program,&uot; said Michael, who will be president of Learn and Serve at Natchez High starting in the fall.

Habitat for Humanity, founded in 1976, is a nonprofit, ecumenical Christian housing ministry. The goal of the program is to eliminate poverty housing from the world. Since it was established, the program has provided more than 100,000 new houses throughout the world.

One of the most high-profile advocates of Habitat for Humanity is former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who travels internationally to work with the program. He is expected to assist at both of the programs in which the Natchez teens will participate.

&uot;That will be a pretty good feeling, to work with someone who was head of our country,&uot; Colton said.

One of the keystones of the summer program is choosing a group of students who are from diverse backgrounds, said Kathy Saad, Youth Blitz leader, speaking by phone from Habitat headquarters in Americus, Ga.

&uot;Providing an experience with diversity is one of the primary goals of the summer youth program,&uot; she said &uot;This project started out eight years ago as a way to bring people together and focus on diversity and social justice.&uot;

Students participating have found the experience to be life-changing, Saad said. &uot;We want them to go home and apply what they have learned to their everyday living, to become involved in their communities as volunteers, maybe even in the Habitat program.&uot;

The two weeks with other teens from many different backgrounds offer an atmosphere in which to grow, she said. &uot;It’s what we call a non-threatening setting; this is the first time most of them have done something like this so they are all equal. That helps them to develop relationships.&uot;

Parents of the students are Edward and Janice Easton and Huey and Cindy Freeman. Like their sons, they are thrilled that the teens will get the summer experience and a chance to meet teens from different backgrounds.

&uot;I think he’s ready,&uot; Edward Easton said of Michael. &uot;He’s very energetic and knows how to stick to things.&uot;

Cindy Freeman said the extra activities sound appealing, too, such as evening programs and visits to nearby sites. &uot;This will be very educational for them,&uot; she said.

Learn and Serve director Randy Laird said the teens will be good representatives of their community. &uot;They will be our ambassadors. It’s their hard work that has put them into this position of being chosen for the program,&uot; Laird said. &uot;They have the opportunity to encourage other students on the campus to be of service.&uot;

Winnie Kaiser of the Natchez-Adams Economic Development Authority is responsible for putting the teens in touch with the program. Her involvement with the Learn and Serve program has led her to seek other ways for students to serve and to grow, she said. When she read on the Internet about the youth Habitat program, she jumped at the possibility, she said.

&uot;These boys are wonderful. They have taken charge of things at the school. They deserve this opportunity,&uot; Kaiser said.