Habitat program lets youths help build

Waverly home renovated for man, 3 grandchildren

April 13, 2003|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

When a court official called Garrison Brown six years ago to tell him that his three grandchildren were going to be placed in foster homes if no one could be found to take them, Brown -- a widower living in a house barely big enough for him -- didn't think twice.

"Their grandmother had died in '95, so the only one they had was me," he said. "They've been with me ever since."

And because of a new Habitat for Humanity program called Youth United, the family of four has a newly renovated home in Waverly -- with three bedrooms, a basement and a back yard.

"I think it's pretty and it's big and it's beautiful, and I get to have my own room," said Garrison Derricks, 9, Brown's youngest grandchild, as he looked around the home on East 35th Street yesterday.

Habitat for Humanity staff members and volunteers cheered and whistled outside Brown's new home yesterday as they presented the key. Brown's granddaughter Deborah Derricks, 12, hid her face in her hands and giggled.

Brown, a food services worker at the Johns Hopkins University, couldn't stop thanking them.

"I'm just so happy," Brown said. "I just know that to create a decent home for them in a fair environment will help instill self-esteem in them."

Dreams like those fuel Habitat for Humanity founder Millard Fuller's desire to see more and more homes built in urban and poverty-stricken areas.

"Seeing Garrison and his grandchildren, and seeing their excitement, it's eternally new; it's always fresh," said Fuller, who traveled to Baltimore to see one of the first completed homes built by a Youth United team of workers. "When I see their excitement, it nourishes me and fills me with excitement and joy."

Youth United is a new initiative developed by Habitat for Humanity International that encourages young people ages 5 to 25 to sponsor and build homes.

In the program -- which is a year old this month -- the young volunteers are responsible for providing labor as well as raising funds needed to rehabilitate the homes.

Students from nine schools in the Baltimore and Washington areas worked on renovating Brown's home, which had been uninhabitable when they started.

"It's just amazing to see how much different it is from the start," said Jeanine Pollard, 16, a sophomore at Notre Dame Prep in Towson, who helped work on the crumbling house during the early stages of the renovation. "You never think that a bunch of people could do that."

"And the fact that it was kids was really cool," said her classmate Emily Smith, 15.

Krista Padgett, who came up with the idea to bring more young people into the charitable renovation work that Habitat for Humanity has been doing since 1976, said the program's goal is to train a new generation of community builders.

"Habitat's mission is to eradicate poverty housing from the face of the Earth," said Padgett, who works in the organization's national headquarters in Americus, Ga.

"The young people today are going to be the ones who donate, lobby, vote and testify in a way that's going to make this possible in the future," Padgett said.

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