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Frameworks of houses started at SkillsUSA’s national conference are finally becoming homes for Louisiana families — and building respect for the generosity of the student volunteers.

A home-building project for families displaced by Hurricane Katrina may have been named “Boots Across the Bayou,” but it actually stretched from Kansas City to Louisiana.

During SkillsUSA’s national conference last June, hundreds of members volunteered for a day of service. They built frameworks for three houses to be shipped to Hammond and Ponchatoula, La. In December, when it was time to put the finishing touches on the homes, SkillsUSA students were there, too.

“This is coming full circle from Kansas City,” said Tom Roberts, social enterprise specialist for the Timberland Company, the project sponsor. “We’re putting them up
here in Louisiana. It’s very impressive.”

For two days, SkillsUSA students from three Louisiana schools — Alfred Bonnabel High School in Kenner, Cullier Career Center in Marrero and Louisiana Technical College Sullivan Campus in Bogalusa — worked alongside volunteers from Timberland, the local FFA and the Ginger Ford Habitat for Humanity. Besides the three houses started in June, the students helped complete interiors of two more homes in Hammond and installed the trusses for another in Amite.

SkillsUSA advisor Marilyn Saponara said her Bonnabel High volunteers could have used the help themselves. “So many have undergone lots of trials and tribulations because of Katrina and many of their houses were messed up, but they had the generosity to come out here and give of their time to help other people.”

“It’s my duty as a citizen of New Orleans to help out my neighbor, even if it’s all the way out here. We’re all in this together, so we should all help each other out.”
–– Dexter Carter, student

At the Hammond site, Habitat for Humanity volunteer coordinator Tamara Danel was equally impressed. “I just asked them if they were ready to break for lunch. They said, ‘Wait! We gotta finish what we’re doing and then we’ll break.’ That’s what a great volunteer will say: ‘Let me finish what I’m doing before I stop and take a break.’ ”

One of those volunteers was Dexter Carter. The Bonnabel student cared enough to spend his 18th birthday installing vinyl flooring and trim.

Carter explains, “It’s something I needed to do to help out other Katrina victims and make sure everybody gets on the right track. It’s my duty as a citizen of New Orleans to help out my neighbor, even if it’s all the way out here. We’re all in this together, so we should all help each other out.”

Building a new lifeTeresa and Frank Evans weren’t hit as hard by Hurricane Katrina as some other families, but it was enough to make their home unsafe. According to Teresa Evans, “When the storm happened, the foundation of our trailer shifted and the walls pulled apart from the floors, and it put mildew all in the house.”

Her mother suggested they apply to Habitat for Humanity. After receiving approval, they made plans to locate their home on property they already owned in Amite. They broke ground in November.

By early December, the homeowners and the SkillsUSA and Habitat volunteers were working on the trusses, bracing, porch beams and subfacia for the home.

“This type of experience is different than a classroom experience because they are actually doing it hands-on,” said Al Flanagan, Habitat’s on-site coordinator.

“They’re actually seeing how a house is built in all the stages it takes to build a house. Most people look at a house and don’t really understand all this little stuff that we’re doing. They are getting the best hands-on experience they can get.”

Frank Evans, a carpenter by profession, was impressed by the quality of his student volunteers. “These kids are wonderful. They’re willing to learn, and if they have any questions, they ask,” he said. Teresa Evans was equally enthusiastic. “They’re awesome!” she added, smiling.

The family hoped to move into their new home by this summer.

Clockwise from top: The Evans family and students from Cullier Career Center; a student installs cabinets; truss work; the new Evans home in Amite; advisors and students from Bonnabel High; and Elliot Smith, SkillsUSA chapter president at Louisiana Technical College’s Sullivan Campus. (Photos by Craig E. Moore)
For many more photos from this event, click here.
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SkillsUSA Champions | Spring 2007 | Volume 41, No. 3
Copyright ©2007 SkillsUSA. All rights reserved.

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