Who would have thought that fourth- through eighth-grade kids could build a new house- without power tools?
It seems impossible, right?
And maybe the most amazing part isn’t the fact that a bunch of kids built a new home- although you must admit, that’s pretty amazing.
Maybe it’s the fact that the opportunity started in Archbold Middle School, became a youth group project, and then grew into an effort of the entire community.
Or that the project was meant to be “some repairs,” but somehow escalated into a demolition project with a good old-fashioned, ground-up house-raisin’ ending.
But then again, maybe the most amazing part isn’t really an issue.
Change of Plans
The effort started last year in school, when Justin Allison and Garrett Morton, members of the multi-denominational Groundbreakers youth group sponsored by Archbold United Methodist Church, became friends with Chandler Stevens in their seventh grade health class.
“We became better and better friends,” said 15-year-old Garrett.
Groundbreakers youth wanted to help after hearing about the discomforts Chandler and his single mother encountered annually in their 204 East Williams Street home. The largest problem was inadequate heating, which meant frozen pipes in winter.
Lisa Allison, a Groundbreakers advisor along with her husband Mark, asked the group their opinion on raising money for what she called “some repairs” on Chandler’s home.
“They all wanted to do it,” she said. “They thought this would be a good way to use their time.”
Groundbreakers held a carnival, a work night at a local restaurant, wrote letters to church groups, and gave presentations at meetings of the Archbold Rotary and Lions clubs, along with the Sauder Woodworking Human Resources department, to raise the necessary $15,000 for the project.
Local businesses also donated materials or reduced prices to help.
At the Groundbreakers’ request, Chandler’s mother, Mary Austin, provided a list of necessary renovations, like a knob for the back door, new furnace, and kitchen light.
Mary and Chandler moved from their home into an apartment, and the youngsters began work.
It soon became apparent the house needed more than renovations.
In fact, it made more sense to build new from the ground up. The Allisons pitched the idea of building anew to the kids after a June 8 baseball game.
Even with the massive undertaking, Lisa said, “All the kids were on board.”
By 7 p.m. the day after the decision to rebuild, there was nothing left of Chandler and Mary’s home but memories and forgotten relics found lodged in the foundation.
“It was kind of cool to watch the house fall down,” said Garrett afterwards. “But to see his mom (Mary) just standing there, staring, it had to be hard for her to watch her house come down to the ground, and not know what’s happening next.”
“But,” Garrett said, “knowing what we’re going to do and how much better a new house will be- it was going to be good.”
Something From Nothing
The house took shape on June 28, known as “The Thursday.” Work began at 7 a.m. The first wall was up an hour and a half later.
That day, there was “a downpour, and we were all totally drenched,” said Drew Lange, 14.
That didn’t stop the kids, because when all 70 of the workers left after 10 p.m., the house was standing.
“They did it all,” said Lisa of the kids. “They put the walls up. They were here all day.”
“When you have (around) 40 people helping you, it’s not that bad,” said 10-year-old Erin Erbskorn, Groundbreakers member.
The day was meaningful for many kids, including Chandler, who worked beside his friends throughout the building project.
“I like it,” he said after the frame was up. “It feels good.”
“I thought it was really cool, because it (the house) was a concrete slab at first,” said Justin. “We actually got to see the work coming together.”
The progress was more apparent after dry-walling. “You actually see the rooms and you can’t see through (the walls)” said Justin. “It actually feels like a house.”
Kids gathered daily to work. “All I had to do was make the phone calls,” said Lisa. “Kids always came.”
Whether the work was writing fund-raising letters, clearing debris, or painting, kids demonstrated “willing hearts, all it takes to do a mission project,” said Kevin Beck, an adult helper and Habitat for Humanity volunteer.
“We have goals that we set everyday,” said Garrett. His father, Kevin Morton, wrote the task list.
“It’s fun, and you know that something good’s going to come out of it,” said Dakota Riehl, 14, a last-year Groundbreaker.
The fact that countless kids described the project as “fun” may explain the motivation.
As Dakota said, “I get to hang out with friends more than I usually do in the summer.”
Helping a friend provides another source of motivation- a powerful one.
They incorporated fun into everything, like the tiling race between the boys in the kitchen and girls in the bathroom.
“We beat the girls,” said Aaron Wyse, 14.
He later created more excitement by accidentally breaking through an outside gas line.
The pipe, with “This is a gas line” written on it was given to Aaron afterwards, said Garrett. “Everybody gave him a hard time.”
Sometimes the work was more serious, like during the July 22 dedication ceremony at the church.
“I thought one of the coolest days was the dedication day when we handed them the keys,” said Justin, and seeing “how emotional Mary was.”
It was a celebration of the power people have for good. As Mark Allison prayed in the opening, “What we think we can’t do, you laugh at. You know we can do it.”
“Everyone involved in this project was blessed only because Mary and Chandler were willing to let this happen,” said Kevin Morton, an adult helper on the project, at the July 22 new-home dedication.
“We spent the whole summer, but it was worth it,” said Justin from the microphone. “I’m really happy for Chandler and his mom.”
Now that Mary and Chandler have moved into their new house on East Williams Street, it’s meant an adjustment for the young workers.
“You’re just so used to coming here everyday,” said Garrett, sitting on the donated couch in Chandler’s new living room. “And then when it stops, you’re like, ‘What do I do?'”
Visits are even different. “It’s now a home,” said Lisa. “You can’t just walk in.”
The move was also an adjustment for Mary and Chandler- albeit a good one.
“It was weird sleeping in this house, because I wasn’t used to it yet,” said Chandler of his first night.
“It’s getting better,” he said.