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Teens serve with a personal touch

Learn and Build Experience allows young people to connect with future homeowners
By Julia Sellers

GEORGETOWN, South Carolina — By the end of Day Four in temperatures above 100 degrees, 16 teenagers had put the finishing screws into the two-by- fours on Lamont Greene’s wheelchair ramp and back porch.

“It’s so cool, because you aren’t even paying attention (to the heat) and you’re just seeing who can move the fastest, and at the end of the day, the porch is finished,” said Katie Burke, 18, of Kenosha, Wisconsin.

The teens were helping complete the Greene family’s home during the second of seven Learn and Build Experience trips. Altogether, the trips will involve 110 participants, including 30 alumni, through the end of August.

Each day the Greenes’ wide smiles greeted volunteers before the future homeowners had even crossed the driveway. Connie Greene made a beeline to the bedrooms and living room to take photos of participants’ signatures and well-wishes on the walls and the concrete floor.

Although the family has completed their 400 sweat-equity hours, participants said the daily interaction with them makes their experience more intimate.

 “It’s definitely a lot more personal to work on a home and know the homeowners,” said Jenny Dzaldov, of Thornhill, Ontario. The teens could have just written

“Welcome home” as a message to the new homeowners, “but we get to personalize it and write what we wish for their family.”

After working until the temperature tipping point of midday, the LBE crews returned to their quarters and began learning about Habitat and its legacy of serving families. This week dispelled the myths that Habitat gives away houses and was born out of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”

“I feel a lot more connected to the initiative after learning how much of its history is tied to civil rights, because my grandparents went through that,” said Lian Cancryn, 18, of Plainfield, New Jersey.

The teens also were able to dismiss labels lumped on them, such as being

a self-centered generation that’s not interested in hands-on service.

“It’s taking 16 teenagers who would be sitting on their butts all summer, throwing them together and then becoming best friends,” Burke said. LBE “is a good way for kids to get involved.

The passion, desire and drive for programs like this start early. Teenagers are very malleable, and if you start them early, they’re going to be more active in their causes, especially if it comes from a personal experience.”

Learn and Build alumni will begin their return service trips in Americus on July 16. The first of two international build teams in Romania will begin work July 15.

Julia Sellers is a writer/editor based in Americus.