By SHEA STASKOWSKI
A group of high school seniors from Notre Dame Preparatory School in Maryland is the last school to participate in the Habitat for Humanity Collegiate Challenge.
A group of 16 from the all-girls school submitted applications to spend their spring break helping to build the two Apostle’s homes being erected simultaneously. More than 30 girls applied for the service trip, but only the 16 most dedicated were selected.
“We always have more applicants than we can take,” trip leader Patty Maillett said. “The school is very committed to service. It’s that commitment to service that keeps us coming back.”
The prep school has participated in 19 collegiate challenges in Starkville, and the experience is open to all seniors.
“Also, what keeps us coming back is our commitment to Habitat and the people. Y’all are the nicest, kindest, most laid-back people. It’s wonderful,” Maillett added. “The girls go back home and tell their little sisters and younger friends, and then [those girls] want to come the next year.”
“The girls love it,” added Steve Pomplon, director of service at Notre Dame Prep. “The word of Southern hospitality spreads throughout the school each year.”
Senior Jen Guthrie, who is the president of her school’s Habitat Club, jumped at the chance to venture down South for the first time.
“Being a part of [Habitat] back in Baltimore, you feel like you’re having an impact on a community, and I feel like a lot of us came down to experience that same feeling here,” Guthrie said. “We got to meet the family yesterday and it makes you see who you’re doing this for, and it makes it worthwhile to know who you’re helping.”
Typically, the Collegiate Challenge volunteers arrive in Starkville on a Sunday and work through the following Friday for a full week of building; however, as Easter falls on the weekend ending their spring break, the Notre Dame Prep group opted to come last Thursday and work through the weekend.
“This is the youngest group we have [to participate in the Collegiate Challenge],” Habitat Director Freddie Rasberry said. “These kids are so special. I worked with them yesterday afternoon and they were not satisfied not to work, so that’s just indicative to me of the dedication they have to this ministry.”
Rearranging their trip to be able to get the most of their work experience seemed like a good idea at the time, but their work day last Friday was interrupted by a rash of storms that left the Northerners a bit shaken.
“We don’t have tornados in Maryland,” Guthrie laughed after the fact. “But everyone is so nice here that it was okay. A woman came up to us to let us know the storms were coming, and she was just so nice and genuine. If a tornado came through Baltimore, I don’t think people would have reacted the same way.”
Aside from the storms, some of the girls had another factor to be nervous about as most have no construction experience.
“I was a little nervous because I have never done anything like this before,” Natalie Scheeler said. “They put me on siding and I was scared I wasn’t going to do it right, but after trying it, I realized I could do it, and siding has actually been my favorite part.”
Site manager John Breazeale is on hand to teach the girls everything they need to know, and the girls have noticed the special way he makes them feel like a professional in no time.
“Everyone is really helpful and nice, and they make you feel like you can do it,” Scheeler said.
“John teaches us so well and so patiently,” Maillett added. “We make mistakes and we mess up materials, but he’s just so patient and helpful.”
Even with storms and a shortened visit, the Notre Dame Prep group kept the building schedule on time for both homes to be completed in June.
“Our goal is to finish and get the families in these homes by mid-June and then we’ll start our third Maroon Edition house in August,” Rasberry explained. “Now that [the Collegiate Challenge] is over, we move to our Friday and Saturday work days. Now our local students and volunteers will step up and help finish the work.”
To find out about volunteer opportunities, contact Starkville Habitat for Humanity at 324-7008, or visit them at http://www.starkvillehabitat.com .