By Todd Girard, English and vocational education teacher at The Gengras Center in West Hartford, Connecticut
“Blessed” is perhaps the most apt way to describe my school’s connection with the beautiful people of Hartford Area Habitat for Humanity.
The Gengras Center offers a special-education program for students with significant cognitive, physical and/or emotional issues that affect their ability to learn through traditional teaching methods. Over the past six years, Habitat has been vital in helping these students become capable workers — through deeply meaningful service to their community.
Back in 2005, I took a small group of students to our first volunteer day with Hartford Area Habitat. The staff was impressed by our desire to work and willingness to tackle any job. Soon, we were volunteering twice a week.
All of the benefits my students enjoy through their volunteer involvement — confidence, self-worth, practical skills — stem from one common Habitat theme: acceptance. As one might expect from Habitat’s ecumenical mission, the people of Hartford Area Habitat have treated us with consistent respect, patience and an exceptional ability to see potential where most do not.
Worksite staffers provide our students with meaningful tasks and constantly find ways to extend our developing skill sets. Office staff, homeowners and other volunteers treat us like family. Many of our students eagerly await the semester they will get to build with Habitat, and most days we can count on seeing students proudly wearing their Habitat T-shirts at school.
Our work with Habitat spills over into our curriculum. Last year, we studied Habitat’s book, How to Build A House. Our work with Habitat has been a major factor in several community service awards our students have received. We have even been able to start a local Challenger Little League (a special-needs baseball league) thanks to the very personal support of some of Hartford Area Habitat’s staff.
I know Habitat’s primary mission is building homes with families in need. But in doing so, they engage and empower so many others willing to help — some of them in need, too. I can attest to that success. In the 10 years I have worked here, my work with Hartford Area Habitat has been the most meaningful, the most rewarding and the most functionally relevant for the future of my students.