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Putting a face on the family

Chanon Ross is trying to help his town’s youth see that their help is needed—and who needs it. He is the director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries at Knox Presbyterian Church in Naperville, Ill., a wealthy Chicago suburb that is a far cry from the abandoned buildings and unsafe neighborhoods of Benton Harbor, Mich.

“These kids just don’t get to see this kind of thing,” he says.

Members of the Knox Presbyterian
Church youth group prepare
insulation during the pre-build.

The Knox group is 100 members strong and was part of the pre-build work of preparing the Jimmy Carter Work Project build site in Benton Harbor. Rather than spending their week relaxing on a beach, these high school students have chosen to hammer plywood, put up scaffolding and pick up trash around the neighborhood. Some are actually making their second visit to Benton Harbor, and they are excited to be a part of the revitalization effort.

“We wanted to see the transformation,” Ross says. “When we were here two years ago, this area was described as 'the ghetto.' Now it’s described as the opposite.”

The group has worked hard to get here. They raised about $50,000 in funds, and now that they are here, they are making do with lodging at a church and commuting to the local YMCA for showers and meals. But you will not hear a single complaint: These humble accommodations have allowed the students to meet some of the partner families who are the recipients of their giving.

“We met a woman whose home had been in progress for several months. When she heard what we were doing, she said, ‘You’re working on my house!’ The kids were excited that they got to see her. It put a face on the family,” Ross says.

—Emily Koon, Writer/Editor, Habitat for Humanity International

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