Teen-agers nearly done making a house like new Service: Young people rehabilitate three-story rowhouse for a first-time homeowner in Sandtown.

October 12, 1997|By Tamara Ikenberg | Tamara Ikenberg,SUN STAFF

Teen-agers. They stay out till all hours. They talk back. They build houses.

"I don't think teens have a good name," says Ricky Johnson. "We're seen in a derogatory way."

But Ricky and about 350 other teen-agers are changing those stereotypes.

They're rehabilitating a three-story rowhouse for first-time homeowner Pam Hawks on Presstman Street in Sandtown, in conjunction with Habitat For Humanity.

About 11 teens and assorted adults were at the house in West Baltimore yesterday, painting, caulking and detailing in the final stages of the renovation.

The project started on April 19th and is scheduled to be finished Oct. 25. The youths have stripped decaying interiors, sanded floors and installed insulation.

The organization and planning started long before the renovations. Youth coordinator Jen Funk, 17, engineered the effort. The Hereford High School student started working on various Habitat projects in the Sandtown area four years ago. She knew then that one day she and her youth group peers at the Catholic Community of St. Francis Xavier in Hunt Valley would take on a house of their own to renovate.

"We wanted a house," the White Hall resident said. "It would represent teen-agers instead of just adults."

Last fall, Funk and the newly formed Sandtown Horizons Committee approached the Sandtown chapter of Habitat. It agreed to provide $20,000 for the renovation, if Funk and company would raise the other $15,000.

The committee approached 30 churches in Baltimore, Hereford and Frederick and asked each for $500. The donations allowed the churches to become involved in the program. Soon, the committee had enough money, Habitat found them a house and work began.

"The overall philosophy of Habitat is everyone, not some, should have a decent, affordable house they can call their own," says Allan Tibbels, founder of the Sandtown Habitat chapter. "Instead of sitting around talking about it, we actually put our hands to it."

Tibbels started the Sandtown chapter in 1989. Since then, 80 houses in the area have been built or renovated. They're working on 55 more. Fourteen Habitat chapters operate in Maryland, and about 1,400 nationwide, Tibbels says. Tibbels and his family moved to Sandtown after living in various Baltimore suburbs to make housing changes from the inside.

"It was a biblical conviction and calling," Tibbels says. "We wanted to become neighbors and help rebuild a community."

In an area where the median income is $10,000, according to Tibbels, residents should have reasonable options for ownership.

House recipients apply, make a 1 percent down payment, in this case $350, and pay a 20-year no-interest mortgage. They also attend homeownership seminars and are required to put in 400 hours of volunteer work on their house and others being renovated in the community.

The agreement works well for Hawks, 29, who will be moving into her Presstman Street house with her fiance, three children and stepson. Hawks, who grew up in the area, applied for a house in August 1996. She received her congratulatory letter in January, and has been involved hands-on ever since.

And she has no apprehensions about the ages of the majority of the volunteers assisting her.

"I have no problem with that," she says. "My son is a teen-ager and he wants to do the same thing. He wants to build."

Gripping caulking guns with caulk-coated fingers, legs splattered with paint, the teens concentrated on their tasks yesterday.

Lauren Gurny, 17, sitting in a closet and painting a door, flecks of paint in her pulled-back hair, marveled at how far the once debris-filled house has come.

She said she had to maneuver in a 2-foot crawl space to apply concrete patching, but no one would tell her why it was necessary.

"None of the guys would do it, so I did it. It was to keep the rats out, but they didn't tell me that," she says. "My parents can't get me to do anything at home. But I come here and work so hard."

Now the walls are bright white, tall windows invite columns of light, and brass-trimmed lighting fixtures have been installed, not to mention the refinished carpentry. Furnishings will come later. The only definite decorating choice Hawks has made is a hunter green carpet.

"I want to take my time and really fix it up the way I want it to be," she says.

Pub Date: 10/12/97

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