High school students helping Habitat for Humanity build houses

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. Springfield's Habitat for Humanity is celebrating its 30th year of helping low income families realize their dream of owning a home.

Since 1988, Habitat volunteers have built or refurbished 560 homes to help more than 1,100 people.

And some of the newest volunteers are receiving high school credits for their work.

It's early in the morning on a hot summer day and while many high school students might be enjoying their summer vacations by sleeping in or hanging out at the lake, around 10 volunteers from Springfield's public schools are working on houses at the Habitat for Humanity's Legacy Trails Neighborhood just north of Springfield.

Supervised by the Habitat's construction leaders, they've worked for two weeks on houses in various stages of construction in a real world learning environment that also earns them high school credit.

"They can't get that kind of experience in a classroom," explained Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Larry Peterson. "It's really a win-win because we need volunteers. Habitat can't do what it needs to do without volunteer labor."

Except for the contractors who do the foundation, electrical, plumbing and HVAC work, all of these Habitat for Humanity homes are built by volunteers like you. And 90% of those volunteers have the same amount of experience when it comes to building homes.

"None," said Glendale senior Tony Davis, who's one of the high school volunteers.

"It doesn't matter whether you've got a lot of experience or whether you've never held a hammer in your life," Peterson said. "You can be very valuable."

"They all came in green," Habitat construction supervisor Steve SanPaolo said about the high school volunteers. "And we've shown them from day one just exactly how everything goes together and and why we're doing it."

And why they're doing it is the best part of all. These high schoolers are among 7,000 volunteers in the past year alone who have donated around 40,000 man-hours to build and refurbish homes for low-income families.

They don't get those houses for free.

"There's a real misconception there," Peterson said. "People think we give away homes. They have to be able to pay a mortgage. Now it's a non-profit mortgage which means it's a zero-interest loan for 20 years."

But the cost for the homes is much less because of the volunteer labor put into it. And these volunteers can take pride in knowing their hard work is making dreams come true.

"Just saying 'I built that house', I feel great," explained Parkview senior volunteer Eric Wandra. "I love helping out people."

"You can't put a value on what it feels like to see the smile when somebody has earned the keys to their new house," Peterson added.

"If you ask the students what's most important to 'em it's definitely helping other people," said Parkview high school teacher Howard Zeigenbein. "They show up before and they stay late. How many students do that in a classroom."