CHAVIES – The sky was a deep blue and the temperature was a balmy 78. By all accounts, Saturday was the perfect day to be outside. But instead of heading to the lake or hitting the trails, a group of 12 high school students met atop a hill in Chavies and spent the day as volunteers, building a house for a local family.
Participants in the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky’s youth leadership and philanthropy program, the students represented each of the three public high schools in the county. Robin Gabbard is the associate executive director at the Foundation, and noted that these students have been participating in this program for the past six months. They are learning a variety of skills from community service to understanding the finer points of philanthropy and building the capacity as special event creators, all in an effort to illustrate they what they do with their lives can have value to the local community.
“We’re starting with these youth and teaching them early that they have a place in Perry County, they have a voice here in Perry County, and that they have lots to contribute,” Gabbard said.
Saturday’s house raising, in concert with the Housing Development Alliance, is the culmination of their experiences in the youth leadership program. They will return to the site — near the Wendell Ford Airport — this coming weekend to continue their service project and work on the house.
Gabbard noted that a house build like this is a good opportunity for the youth leadership participants to not only give back to the community, but also to put into practice some of the skills they have learned over the past few months.
“They could take the skills they learned and work with a group (the Housing Development Alliance) that already had some of those finer points already figured out, and be able to put an event together that was successful without being overwhelming at the same time,” Gabbard explained.
The students will also have an opportunity once the house is complete to return to the site for an open house and potentially meet the family who will be living inside the home, making a connection from what they have learned to how that knowledge is applied in a real-world setting.
The initiative is actually a combination of work from the Foundation as well as the 4-H program, noted Jan Gibson, an extension agent in Perry County. She added that these students, once they have completed the program, will be able to work on grants themselves and work to get other young people involved in community-oriented projects.
Each of the students were nominated to participate in the leadership program, four from each school (Hazard, Perry Central and Buckhorn). Gibson added that nominations for an additional level will be taken so that once the students graduate, the program will continue to take in new participants and become self-sustaining.
And for the students, Saturday’s house build was an opportunity not only to see the practical effects of their participation in the leadership program, but simply a way to give back to their local community.
“I think this is a good way to show we’re actually involved in the community,” said Timothy Baker, a student at Buckhorn High School and a participant in the youth leadership initiative. “This is just a great way to give back. Our main goal is philanthropy, and this is a great way to show that.”
“I just wanted the opportunity to help people, to do something positive for the community,” added Perry Central student Daniel Campbell. “I could be sitting at home doing nothing, or I could be helping people, and I think just sitting at home is a bit selfish of me.”
And while the focus of the youth leadership program is to develop a focus on philanthropy, the House Development Alliance is seeing an immediate benefit from the students’ efforts.
The house being completed in Chavies will be inhabited by a single mother and her child, noted Scott McReynolds, director of the Housing Development Alliance in Hazard, whose non-profit organization works to provide affordable housing for families in Perry County. Volunteer labor on projects like these is a valuable asset and helps cut down on costs, allowing staff with the Alliance to use funds normally used for labor on other projects.
“It’s huge. We’ll get a lot of work done today, and it will save us money on the labor,” McReynolds said. “Part of the service project is that they are actually providing some of the funding on the house, so they’re actually buying materials, and that will help us be able to build more houses.”
And there is also the satisfaction in helping a family out by physically building them a new home, added Natalie Morton, a student at Hazard High School who has volunteered on similar projects in the past.
“It’s always good to help out someone in need,” she said, “and especially give someone a home.”