Holland Patent Tornado Squad
We’re Back! We’ve made a difference! Our trip was a HUGE success!
The Holland Patent Tornado Squad’s Spring Break trip to Birmingham, Alabama was a resounding success. 26 Holland Patent High School students, accompanied by Eileen McCann, Sherry Kennerknech and Ellen McMahon left Easter Sunday for a week-long adventure to build houses for Habitat for Humanity.
The group endured a 21 hour bus ride to Birmingham, made tolerable by a very entertaining bus driver, unpacked the bus, moved into their lodging for the week (a church basement with 50 bunk beds) and set out to check out the damage from the April 2011 and January 2012 tornadoes.
What we found was surprising. Much of the damage had been cleaned up, but there was clearly a path of destruction in areas where the tornadoes touched down. Piles of rubble, foundations and damaged homes that have been abandoned were still evident, and there was a lot of rebuilding going on. Instead of being widespread, the damage was in specific areas and clearly defined. One house could have been totally destroyed and lifted off its foundation, while the house next door was undamaged.
The Tornado Squad worked on a house that was under construction, and upon arrival the four walls had been erected, but not much else. After meeting our construction supervisor, who is a professional contractor, getting a few safety tips, and going over the rules for the work site, the group donned hard hats and got right to work. A handful of students were taught how to “block” the kitchen and bathroom walls so cabinets could be hung, and they immediately set to work measuring and cutting two by fours and hammering them into place. Another group went to work putting up the roof trusses with the aid of the aforementioned bus driver, who proved to be a jack-of-all-trades. It was amazing how quickly and enthusiastically the students went about their tasks. Everybody was busy, and the house seemed to transform itself right before our eyes.
Another day, Habitat sent us to their Re-Store, which is a home improvement store open to the public. Corporations and individuals donate all manner of building materials and home items, which Habitat then resells for a profit. Our students unloaded a truck, moved furniture around, straightened up shelves, and organized the store. These particular tasks were not very popular with the students, who pointed out that they didn’t sit on a bus for 21 hours, raise over $20,000, and give up their spring break to work in a store….Some negotiating ensued, and the group was then sent to a Habitat home that was just about finished and ready to be dedicated, but needed landscaping. The group was faced with six pallets of sod, countless shrubs and flowers, and a brand new house on a dirt lot. Within four hours, the students laid out the sod into a lawn, planted the shrubs and flowers, spread mulch and made the house look like a home anybody would be proud to move into. Again, the enthusiasm the kids displayed was truly amazing. Their “can-do” attitude attracted numerous bystanders, stopped traffic several times, and even garnered the attention of the local Birmingham news station, which sent over a cameraman and reporter to see what was going on.
The next two days were spent back on the original house they started working on. Plywood was laid on the roof trusses, tarpaper put down, and the roof was prepared for shingling. Windows were put in, doors were hung, siding put up, and the structure began to look like a house. The students had an opportunity to meet the very grateful woman and the two girls who would live in the home upon completion, which was extremely gratifying. They could not express their thanks often enough. By the end of the week, the house was fully waterproofed and ready for the plumbers, electricians, and HVAC people to come and do their part.
Our site supervisor was extremely impressed with the quality and amount of work the kids got done in three days of work. Prior to our arrival, he had told us the project was about a week behind due to the Easter holiday, when we left at the end of the week he stated the project was about a week ahead of schedule! The students were thrilled to hear that and very proud of what they had done.
In between the long hours in the hot sun building houses and landscaping, the group utilized what little down time they had by making a trip to the local movie theater, having a bowling tournament, and taking in a minor league baseball game. (Eating and sleeping were also popular activities our students proved to be adept at…)
All in all, our students were great ambassadors for Holland Patent. They represented our High School, our community and their families very well. We were repeatedly complimented on their work ethic, their manners, their maturity, and their willingness to help. What was even more significant was the support the Tornado Squad got from the Holland Patent community. The generosity of our friends, relatives and neighbors, local businesses, and even people we didn’t know was truly astounding. Our cause was admirable and our intentions were honorable. It was our community that made this trip happen, and the entire Tornado Squad is grateful.
On June 12, a video of our trip was shown to the community at the Holland Patent High School auditorium. Students shared their experiences and answered questions regarding our efforts. You can check out the video here: http://www.hpschools.org/education/school/school.php?sectiondetailid=46.
(Ellen McMahon, Sherry Kennerknech and Eileen McCann are members of Holland Patent Teachers Association)