200 teens lend helping hands

July 11, 1993|By William Thompson | William Thompson,Staff Writer

CHESTERTOWN -- While many of her friends back home in Frederick escaped the summer heat in air-conditioned malls or in neighborhood swimming pools, 16-year-old Rebecca Mabry spent the last two days pounding nails under a sun so strong it made grown men falter.

"It hurts. Your hands cramp," said Rebecca as she took a breather yesterday and watched scores of other teens carrying lumber and swinging hammers. "It's the experience of a lifetime."

Rebecca was one of more than 200 teens from ages 14 to 18 who traveled to the Eastern Shore late Thursday to put in two full days of volunteer labor helping build a pair of houses at Washington Park, a small Kent County community near the edge of town here.

Dubbed "Blitz Build '93," the building marathon was a joint effort of the local Chester Valley Habitat for Humanity (CVH), area businesses and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

CVH, which was formed locally five years ago and joined Habitat for Humanity International in 1990, wanted to build homes for two area low-income families but did not have the work force necessary to complete most of the construction in two days, said organization president Dan Ingersoll.

That's when Mormon church leaders, who represent congregations in central and western Maryland, volunteered to make the home building project the theme of the church's annual summer youth conference.

Like its umbrella organization, CVH is a nonprofit group that tries to improve housing conditions for low-income people unable to obtain routine mortgages but who earn enough to repay no-interest loans.

"It's not a hand-out, but a helping hand," said Dora Shorter, a single mother who said she could not afford to build her own home until CVH offered to help.

To Glenn Catley, CVH treasurer and pastor at the First United Methodist Church in Chestertown, the construction project means more to the community than a couple of new addresses.

"This builds more than just homes," he said. "It builds the spirit of a community. It introduces different people -- rich and poor, white and black. Everyone begins to appreciate the diversity."

Under Ms. Shorter's agreement with CVH, the Kent County native will make monthly payments of $187.50 to cover the costs of the lot and construction materials. Because of the volunteer work, she will not have to pay for labor.

But she has agreed to contribute "sweat equity" -- mostly in the form of interior painting and other finishing touches -- before she moves into her new house.

By the time the single-story, three-bedroom houses are finished, said Mr. Ingersoll, each will be worth about $45,000.

Working under the supervision of experienced carpenters and other building contractors, the teens provided most of the muscle required to transform two building sites into nearly completed houses within 48 hours.

When the group arrived for work early Friday morning, only the cinder-block building foundations had been prepared. By the end of the first day, exterior walls and much of the roofing had been put in place on both houses. When the group finally put its hammers down late yesterday, the dwellings had been sided, interior walls were standing and the roofs were complete.

Heat and work took their toll on the volunteers. Nancy Morris, the director of nurses at the nearby Kent and Queen Anne's Hospital, stood ready with bandages and dispensed gallons of fluids for the thirsty laborers. On Friday, one crew leader was taken to the hospital for heat exhaustion.

Still, complaints about the working conditions were rare.

"It's hard work, but it's fun," said 14-year-old Tony Jorgensen from Mount Airy. "I'm getting satisfaction knowing that I'm helping put a nice roof over someone's head. That's all I need to make me come here."

Rebecca, who took off from her job at a Frederick fast-food restaurant to help build the houses, said she was glad she joined the group.

"It's just a great experience watching everybody work together," she said. "You don't see that very often, at least not with a bunch of kids."

Although the buildings are not ready for occupancy, the amount of work that was completed impressed observers.

"What we're doing here in two days could take eight to 10 weeks for the average contractor with a crew of six," said Les Cook, a retired builder from New Windsor who operated a power saw at one of the house sites.

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