If you were out for a drive in Rockledge, Florida, and happened to turn onto Faull Lane, you probably wouldn’t think twice about what you saw. Sure, the houses in the neighborhood are neat and clean looking, and the yards are well kept. But there’s nothing particularly unusual about them. Except, perhaps, for number 812.
Was that house there last week? Yesterday?
You think about it for a minute and realize that not long ago, there was nothing where that house is now standing but an empty lot. You’re almost certain that the house, complete with a fully finished yard, was nothing but a patch of dusty ground just a few weeks before. But how does a house appear out of nowhere?
Flash back to a very warm summer afternoon in Cocoa, Florida, at the Cocoa stake center. Ashley Foss, a Laurel, is giving what amounts to a pep talk to the youth from the Cocoa and Orlando South stakes.
“Remember, Florida is the Sunshine State,” she says. “It’s going to be hot tomorrow, so be ready and bring a squirt bottle!”
Ashley goes on to give other good advice for the outdoor activity they’re planning—like wearing clothes that can get dirty, drinking plenty of water, using sunscreen. Then Ashley delivers the clincher.
“It usually takes seven or eight months to build a house, and we’re going to do it in a day!”
Building a house in one day. They’ve been hearing about it for months, and the next day it will finally materialize.
Although the room is warm and the youth are perhaps a bit drowsy, there is a real change in the feeling in the room.
But you need a lot more than smiles and enthusiasm to build a house—especially when you’re doing it for youth conference. In fact, in many stakes a project like this wouldn’t be possible. But the Cocoa Stake is home to a lot of adults who are experts in construction, so with their help, the youth committee decided to give it a try. The young men and young women teamed up with Habitat for Humanity, a Christian organization dedicated to building decent housing for families who couldn’t otherwise afford it.
Sara Judd, a Laurel on the youth committee, was in charge of finding donors for materials, goods, and services to be used during the building. But where do you go when you have to find things like a crane, bottled water, T-shirts, two-way radios, sod and landscaping materials, tents, tables, chairs, and portable rest rooms? With items that diverse, there’s not exactly a place for one-stop shopping.
“Brother [Kerry] Gilger, the stake Young Men president, and I opened up the yellow pages at one of the youth committee meetings,” says Sara. “We made a list of the businesses that might be willing to donate something, and then we started making phone calls.”
Because many of the people Sara and the others on the committee worked with were members of other faiths, the project wasn’t just a good leadership and organizational skills builder; it was also a great missionary project.
“I went to all the Habitat for Humanity meetings we were required to attend as part of this project,” says Sara, who used her involvement as a Laurel project. “I learned a lot. Many of the people involved, including the family we were building for, were from different religious faiths. It was neat to work together toward the same goal.”
Although the homes built by Habitat for Humanity are simple and relatively small, construction usually takes at least a few months. But the youth committee knew that youth conference wouldn’t last longer than a few days. Their solution? Get the house done, start to finish, in one day.
“A ‘blitz build’ like this has been done before in other areas,” says Logan Newby, a priest on the youth committee. “But the people in charge of the Habitat chapter here weren’t sure that we could do it, especially with so many teenagers helping. We knew it would be great, and that everyone would really get into it, so we made a plan and presented it.”
The plan included an early start, 6:00 A.M., and a solution for every conceivable problem. For instance, most teenagers don’t know the first thing about building a house. So the youth were divided into groups and then paired with skilled laborers—people who volunteered to work for free—to oversee everything they did. There were so many teens involved that they couldn’t all work on the house at the same time, leaving them with a lot of time that wasn’t filled. No problem. The youth committee devised other projects to work on, things like putting in the yard, building a shed, and cleaning nearby vacant lots. Finally, there were countless safety issues to be addressed. That seemed to be the highest hurdle to clear.
“We thought that might be the end of this idea,” says Sara. “But the police, the Red Cross, and a local ambulance service all donated their time to help us. Once that was taken care of, we were ready to go.”
On the day of the build, more than 300 teens are up before the sun. In the darkness, the cement foundation—poured a few days earlier to give it time to cure—is barely visible. By the time the sun is shining, the cement is surrounded by studs, and the framework for the roof is being put on. Skilled laborers do the technical work, while teenagers happily sweep, nail, and paint where they are told.
By lunch, the house is starting to take shape. Housing inspectors are on hand to approve each phase of the project as it is finished. And though it’s scorching hot, smiles are seen all around.
“I think everyone really likes coming together for something like this. It makes us feel good to be here, helping a family out,” says Mia Maid Kristin Turley.
By mid-afternoon, youth are helping with finish work. One paints trim; another helps put house numbers on. One even tests the porch light to make sure it’s working. Soon, kitchen cabinets and fixtures are installed by an expert. He is cleaned up after by several broom-toting teenagers.
Later on, most everyone helps lay sod. A few people plant flowers and trees, and everyone—plants and people—gets a long drink of water.
By this time, some of the local media have come to see what all the excitement is about. Other important people in town have come to see, too. A few of them, including Rockledge Mayor, Jack Oats, even roll up their sleeves and help.
“These kids are unbelievable,” says the mayor. “With kids like this, who aren’t afraid to talk about and live what they believe in, we don’t have to worry about the future.”
Soon the building inspector comes for a last walk-through. He declares it not only up to code but one of the most soundly built houses he has ever seen.
At 6:00 P.M., just 12 hours after the project began, there is a house standing where there was just an empty lot. The youth gather in the yard and watch as the homeowner, Karol DeKlercq, is presented the keys to her new house.
“Your love will forever be a part of our lives,” she says. “For the rest of my life and as my [four] children grow and their hands touch all you have built, the prints of your love will forever be there.”
There are tears in just about everybody’s eyes as the reality of what has happened sinks in. The DeKlercq family had previously rented a house that had fallen into disrepair, and they had no hope of ever having a place of their own. They now have 1,200 square feet—three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, a living room, and an eating area—to call home.
Every time a new house is finished, representatives from Habitat for Humanity present the homeowner with a Bible to keep as a family treasure. This time, in addition to the Bible, the family also received a triple combination and a framed copy of The Family: A Proclamation to the World.
After these gifts have been given and the youth have a chance to hug or congratulate Karol, they load up into waiting vans and head for a park where a well-deserved barbecue is being prepared. After they leave, the neighborhood is still—the first time all day that the hubbub has quieted down to anything less than a dull roar.
After the dust has settled and the youth and their leaders have had a few days to rest, they’ll meet and discuss the conference. They’ll talk about things that were successful, things that could have been done differently. But by all accounts, the project was a huge hit.
“I love missionary work, and I love service,” says Laurel Kelli Baker. “What could be more fun than a youth conference project that combines both of them?”
And so when you’re taking that drive through a small neighborhood in the middle of Florida, you can be sure that your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you. Yes, that house did spring up overnight.
To be sure, the lot the house sits on is a fairly ordinary piece of land, nothing special really. Nothing special unless you consider what the helping hands of hundreds of teenagers accomplished there: they’ve given a family a place to call home.
The Orlando South and Cocoa stakes’ blitz build was a great success, but the youth had a lot of people with specialized skills to help them. If you’d like to get involved, but don’t have those kinds of resources, don’t despair. Many stakes have become involved with Habitat, lending a helping hand with one aspect of a building project, like clearing debris from a lot or painting a finished house, rather than doing the whole thing themselves.
When you’re planning a youth conference, a service project, or a Laurel or Eagle Scout project, first think about the skills and talents of your youth and leaders. Consider what kinds of other resources are available, and then decide what kind of project you can do. Your local Habitat for Humanity chapter, park service, chamber of commerce, Red Cross, or recreation department are all great organizations to hook up with when you’re planning a project.