'Lending A Helping Hand'



With a power drill in one hand and a hammer in the other, Miguel Diaz, 17, a student at Lovejoy High School, has been lending his construction skills –– since the beginning of this week –– to do a good deed for the community.

And he is not alone.

Students and teachers from Lovejoy, Mt. Zion, Jonesboro and Forest Park high schools have teamed up with the Jonesboro-based Southern Crescent Habitat for Humanity to renovate a home at 428 Whaleys Lake Drive, for Willie Perry and his family.

“We’re very excited about the [house],” said Perry. “[The students] are doing an [excellent] job.”

The project kicked off earlier this week, and will continue through Friday, according to Jeff Price, a construction teacher at Lovejoy High. On the opening day of the project, he said, a ceremony was held in which Clayton County School Superintendent Edmond Heatley, Board of Education Chairperson Pam Adamson, and Clayton County Sheriff Kimbrough stopped by to assist the students.

“So far, we have removed all the windows, replaced all the rotten wood, and now we’re putting the house back together,” said Price.

Price said six students from each of the school’s construction classes were selected to participate in the building assignment, totaling 24 students. Out of that 24, two are females, he said. “Only the top-notch students were selected to do the assignment,” he added.

The incentive for the students is the hands-on experience, he said. “You can’t imitate what [students] are learning [on site], in the classroom,” said Price. “Plus, [students] are volunteering and helping other people ... using their skills for an actual project, versus a simulation in the classroom.”

Jeff Hill, construction teacher at Mt. Zion High, agreed, saying this is a good opportunity for students to get a taste of what happens outside a classroom setting. “They put forth a lot of effort,” Hill said. “I wish we had more time, because this is just something [students] can’t get in the classroom.”

Kimberly Gomez, 16, a student at Lovejoy High, said her confidence was buttressed by her ability to handle heavy-duty tools and “do a man’s job.”

“It feels good,” she said jovially. Gomez said she does not think she will pursue a career in construction, but was happy she could use the skills she has learned in Price’s class to give something back to the community.

“We know how to [do the work] and we’re prepared to do it,” she said. Smiling from ear-to-ear, she said that, after this experience, she has gained “bragging rights,” and can confidently say she knows how to build a house.

Sixteen-year-old Camelia Robertson, a student at Jonesboro High School, shared the same perspective as Gomez. As one of the two female students working on the renovation, she said she was interested in taking the construction class at school, mostly out of curiosity.

Being involved in this project, however, has allowed her to acquire more skills, she said. “I’ve learned how to read a ruler, how to cut and saw [wood] correctly, and proper safety in the workplace,” said Robertson.

Clayton County Public Schools, Price added, has been associated with Southern Crescent Habitat for Humanity since 2003, and this will be the second home the students have renovated this year. “We [renovate a home] every October and every April,” he said, “so, we’ve [done two homes] a year for the last 8 years.”

Alberta Grover, program manager for Southern Crescent Habitat for Humanity, said she has enjoyed working with the students and teachers, and commended them on their work ethic and skills.

She added that her organization’s mission is to take modest-income families and put them in homes. In the past, she said, the organization would build the homes from the ground up. But, because of the economy, it has formed a collaboration with Clayton County’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program, in renovating homes that go into foreclosure. “This is a way to revitalize the neighborhood,” said Grover.

The house the students are working with this week is expected to be completed by the end of the year, Grover said, and the hope is that the Perry family will move into their new home by January.

“I can’t wait to see what the house will look, once it’s finished,” said an anxious Perry. “I’m very excited.”

Those who are interested in learning more about Southern Crescent Habitat for Humanity programs, can visit the web site at: www.schabitat.org.