Monday, August 30, 2010

Valley Stream Girl Scout Troop 2053 Gives Back by Guest Blogger Kristen Wraith

What happens when you give a group of Girl Scouts and their friends with little or no experience, tools, and tell them to help build a house for a week? You get a 60' x 5’ sidewalk trench, a full room of sheet rock and hundreds of square feet of newly hung siding. Well, at least that is what happened when Valley Stream Girl Scout Troop 2053, led by Lorraine Pergola and JoAnn Scala, spent the week working for Habitat for Humanity in Salem, New Jersey.

After years together as a troop, the girls decided that they wanted to do something meaningful before they went their separate ways and with everyone entering either college or senior year of high school, this would be the last chance to do something together as a group. They decided that with the money they had raised from years of cookie sales that they wanted to do something that would introduce them to a new experience while helping those in need at the same time. Habitat for Humanity was the obvious choice as it offered a great life experience as well as important lessons in home improvement, and gave the girls the opportunity to see their work materialize in the form of a house for a single mother of two young children.

As Jaclyn Stamile, a Senior at South High School, put it, "even though many of us were beginners in the construction business, seeing part of a home completed for another person is fascinating".

The group of fifteen, consisting of both girls and boys along with their adult chaperones, applied for the project through Habitat for Humanity's Collegiate Challenge. The Collegiate Challenge is a week-long program specifically for those sixteen years of age and older with the goals of skill building, eliminating poverty and getting the volunteers connected to the surrounding area. With many locations around the country available, the group decided on New Jersey because of the opportunity to help people close to home and to avoid the burden of the extended travel as would have been necessary for many of other locations.

Once settled in the church which they would call home for the week, the group traveled to the work site and divided into three crews based on skill and interest. Those comfortable with heights tackled the scaffolding, those willing to do some heavy lifting took on the sidewalk and the remaining volunteers moved indoors to work on measuring and hanging sheet rock.

After lessons from the site managers, they got to work, facing both the hot July temperatures and summer thunderstorms during their week. Yet, everyone quickly began to master their own part of the job and the tasks that were at first daunting, became routine.

"Working as a team for Habitat for Humanity didn't feel like work at all," said
Will Hunter, a Senior at North High School. " To be involved in the process of giving someone a home was extremely rewarding."

Even as skills developed, physical and mental limitations were challenged throughout the week . As the days went on, the scaffold grew from two stories to three and the ladders had to go up to match. As work on the sidewalk progressed, roots and old concrete slabs needed to be broken apart and pulled up when least expected, but everyone managed to work together to get around every obstacle that they were faced with.

"In the beginning, I was nervous working on the lower levels of the scaffolding," said Kristen Wraith, a freshman at Harvard University. "But by the end of the week we were 25 feet up and I was fine. It just took a little getting used to. I did it because I enjoyed seeing the before and after of what we had done."

One volunteer, Travis Lopez, a freshman at Rochester Institute of Technology, had worked for Habitat once before and jumped at the opportunity to do so again. He acknowledged how a group can grow to cooperate and build together when working for a common cause. "Even if you have never met the people you are sharing the experience with, after a day of work you develop a friendship and a special bond."

This was the case for all of the Valley Streamers, who quickly adjusted to working with the professionals on site. They learned to take criticism and more than once, had to redo some of their work. Still, there were no hard feelings because by the end of the week, they had picked up on the technical terms of the job, were able to raise and lower scaffolds, side a house, finish a roof, level a sidewalk channel, measure and cut sheet rock, and use all of the tools necessary to get their jobs done, all in the hot, summer sun.

Yet, everyone kept in mind the reason that they were working in the first place, an idea that was reinforced when Ciara and her daughter, the future homeowners, showed up on the site to thank the volunteers for their work.

"As teenagers we can not easily donate money out of our pockets, however we can donate our time and will power," Hunter said of lending a hand. "I am thoroughly grateful to have been a part of that experience and would strongly consider helping out again. When Ciara came to the site, it put a name and face to the work, and seeing how fascinated her daughter was with all that was being done was an added incentive to keep going."

This feeling was mutual for all involved. The best possible encouragement for these teens, according to Christine Schaefer, a freshman at St. Josephs NY, was working from the heart to give others a home. After seeing the family that will be getting the house, the group said that they felt more of a connection to what they were doing.

The joy of helping others was what helped the teens power through the week without a hitch. This joy was best summed up by Travis Lopez, who commented, "By working with Habitat for Humanity, I was able to play a small role in the massive change of the homeowner's life. By changing the life of another, you change a bit yourself, which to me is the true reward".

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