News>Cadets trade sand and surf for nail guns and paint brushes
Cadet 2nd Class Stephen Henderson, of Cadet Squadron 01, puts beams in place on a Habitat for Humanity project in Houston March 27, 2012. Nearly 60 cadets volunteered their time to build homes with Habitat for Humanity in Houston, Santa Fe and Taos, N.M., Oklahoma City, Okla., Kansas City, Mo., and Sheridan, Wyo. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Tech. Sgt. Raymond Hoy)
3/30/2012 - HOUSTON -- Twenty Air Force Academy cadets traded sandy beaches, sun tan lotion and bathing suits, for saw dust, mosquito repellent and safety goggles to build homes for those in need Monday through Thursday in the Houston suburbs.
The cadets were participating in the Academy's alternative spring break program helping Habitat for Humanity with home construction projects in six separate locations.
"Every year, we get students who come from all over the United States to volunteer to spend a week with us to help us put up homes to help out families in need," said Tom Gongora, construction supervisor for Habitat for Humanity. "This is just a great group of kids."
These houses are built to the specific needs of families who come into Habitat for Humanity to request assistance.
"These families are in need of a decent home that they can afford," Gongora said. "We build them everything from three, four and five bedroom homes. These people don't make quite enough to afford their own home, and rentals are really expensive. So we do what we can to help them out.
"And they don't get them for free; they also have to work on their home. They have to put in 300 hours of what we call 'sweat equity.' It's only after they put that time in that they get into the house."
However, most of the work comes from volunteers like the cadets. And while they do some quality work, it doesn't always start that way.
"We learned how to work a hammer, a nail gun and a circular saw," said Cadet 3rd Class Chelsea Renfro. "They were a complete nightmare. I exploded a piece of wood with a nail gun. The circular saw was ok, but the nail gun was very dangerous. But, you know, we're gaining skills."
And it's something the specialists at Habitat for Humanity are used to dealing with.
"When we typically get them, they have just basic skills," Gongora said. "It's our job to nurture them and teach them the skills they need. And by the time they leave, they have a pretty good idea of what they're doing."
Despite what they learned, painting seemed to be the hands-down favorite.
"Painting," confirmed Cadet 3rd Class Christina Napper. "They tried to give me a nail gun the other day; it didn't work out so well. Painting is better. The circular saw wasn't so bad, but I definitely like painting more."
"Painting is always the favorite thing," Gongora said. "When we put up walls, people love to do that. But after the walls, we get quite a bit higher. People don't really like to do that. That's when they start to ask to paint. Everybody loves painting."
So, why give up your Spring Break to help build homes for the needy?
"My friends and I thought this would be a fun idea," Renfro said. "We thought this would be a good way to stay active and help out, and get out of Colorado for a while."
"I wanted to do Habitat for Humanity when I was in high school, but there was always something conflicting," Napper added. "I also didn't get the chance to do it last year. So, I figured it's a good Spring Break, because we still get time off while helping people who need help. Plus, I still get to hang out with my friends.
"I've gotten a lot more bug bites than I wanted, but other than that, it's been fun."
Nearly 60 cadets volunteered their time to build homes with Habitat for Humanity in Houston, Santa Fe and Taos, N.M., Oklahoma City, Okla., Kansas City, Mo., and Sheridan, Wyo.
Cadets volunteered more than 32,000 hours of their time last school year helping in communities across the nation. They helped with everything from soup kitchens and toy drives, to flood relief and building homes.