Students hone tools of community service

Builders: In partnership, Habitat for Humanity and Park School are hoping to revive a city block.

May 01, 2002|By Linda Linley | Linda Linley,SUN STAFF

At the house on Montpelier Street in Baltimore's Waverly neighborhood, the Park School students work diligently, nailing Sheetrock and unrolling insulation to finish the interior of a rowhouse they are helping to renovate.

The students, in partnership with Chesapeake Habitat for Humanity, have been working on the house in the 900 block since December, clearing garbage, doing demolition work and framing walls to return it to livable condition.

The students aren't just volunteering labor - they are raising $50,000, the cost of the renovation.

That's what being a house sponsor means, says Marisa Canino, development associate at Chesapeake Habitat.

This is the second house that the Park students have sponsored in the neighborhood, said Julia Katz, 18, a senior at the private Baltimore County school. The first, now occupied, is a half-block away.

10 houses in 10 years

"We are hoping to sponsor 10 houses in 10 years in this neighborhood," said Katz, a member of the school's Habitat for Humanity club. Members spent a month last summer volunteering for the nonprofit housing organization.

So far, $19,852 has been raised for the Montpelier Street renovation, but that doesn't include the proceeds from the Lake Montebello 5K Run that students sponsored April 20.

Park students have raised money by trick-or-treating, holding a jump rope-a-thon and networking within the school community for donations of cash and materials.

A large water jug - decorated with a roof and fence to look like a house - also sits in the school lobby, with a sign that reads: "Chesapeake Habitat for Humanity - Every Penny Counts." The jug is about one-quarter full with dollar bills and coins.

Last month, the teen-agers made a major presentation to local contractors, appealing for contributions. Katz said the students are hoping that the contractors will make a three-year commitment to the project.

"This project is a good lesson for the students," said Elisa Weidenbaum, one of Park's faculty advisers. "They learn how to raise funds and how to approach people, as well as learning how to build. It's also a great way to instill service learning."

Weekends invested

As many as 10 students show up several weekends a month at the Montpelier Street house and work at whatever project Habitat manager Charles Myers assigns them. Myers is supervising the Park-sponsored renovation, along with one next door.

"It has been amazing to learn how to build things," said Rebecca Bronfein, 16, a Park School junior who has been working in the Waverly neighborhood for two years. "You can also learn to teach others."

Canino said Habitat has been working primarily in the Waverly and Pen Lucy neighborhoods. The 900 block of Montpelier St., with 13 vacant rowhouses, was the most problematic site.

No-interest mortgages

Chesapeake Habitat is trying to acquire the vacant buildings to provide affordable housing for low-income residents. The houses are sold to qualifying residents with a no-interest mortgage, after the would-be homeowners invest hundreds of hours of their own labor.

The Park-sponsored house is expected to be completed by June 2, when it will be dedicated.

Canino said a celebration would be held that day with the sponsors and the volunteers. A ceremonial presentation of the house keys will be made to the new homeowner.

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