New York students join Notre Dame volunteers on Habitat house

Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Jessica Prieto, of St. Francis Preparatory School in Queens, N.Y., helps build a Habitat for Humanity house on Ellis Street in Cape Girardeau on Tuesday. Students from several Catholic high schools in New York City traveled to Cape Girardeau to team up with Notre Dame students on the project. (Kristin Eberts)

On South Ellis Street, a house is rapidly rising from the mud of a vacant lot.

It's a home built by many hands, constructed on hope, its builders say.

On Tuesday, a group of 25 students from three New York City-area Catholic schools joined seniors from Notre Dame Regional High School in adding to the Habitat for Humanity home. With hammers in hand, the young construction crew spent the day pounding plywood, filling the frame with walls and closets.

"I'm not a great hammerer, but I'm getting there," said Gianna Gualtieri, a senior at St. Anthony's High School, a Catholic college preparatory private school on Long Island.

It was a service favor returned for St. Anthony's, St. Francis Preparatory School in Queens and Bishop Ford Central Catholic High School in Brooklyn, N.Y. Notre Dame students and staff have worked with the Franciscan Brothers of Brooklyn -- Notre Dame principal Brother David Migliorino's New York City religious family -- on several inner-city mission projects.

This week, Franciscan Mission Week, the New York area students are bedding down at Notre Dame's newly completed multipurpose center, serving as a home base for mission work in Southeast Missouri.

The big project is the house at 325 S. Ellis St.

Jonathan Licandro, a senior at St. Anthony's, decked out in tool belt, looked the part of a homebuilder as he stopped for lunch and reflected on the morning's work.

"It's an incredible feeling," he said. "We have a great group of children here all willing to work hard and put in volunteer hours to make something beautiful like this happen."

As the students work, they see the faces of the people who will, if all goes according to plan, inhabit the home come this summer.

The house, one of four or five slated for construction this year by Cape Area Habitat for Humanity, will belong to Charlene Dalton and the two teenage granddaughters she is raising. The family lives a few blocks away from the construction site, in a neighborhood that has, at times, been plagued by violence.

"A couple of years ago, I had a bullet come through a window of my house, and it missed hitting my granddaughter in the back of the head by half an inch," Dalton said. She works nights and worries about the safety of the children, who she has raised since they were little.

"I just want to get them away from there, to a safe neighborhood, decent living," Dalton said as she sat on the concrete landing in front of the framed structure that is becoming her home.

Dalton and her granddaughters have been involved in the construction. She said they're so excited that most of their stuff is already packed up and labeled.

"It's really fun to build our own house. We know who helped us build these rooms," said Gabrielle Dalton, 15.

It takes a lot of volunteers to construct the homes. Becky Fluchel, office manager for Cape Area Habit for Humanity, said Notre Dame students are among the most active volunteers in the area.

"You just don't expect the teens in our area to always put an eye on somebody else," Fluchel said. "Notre Dame students have done everything from framing to painting, and they manage to get into all different aspects of building throughout the year."

This week's service mission brought together two worlds: a metropolis and a small town. William Vogelson, campus minister at St. Francis Prep, said he's not sure any of his students had ever seen a dairy farm before they arrived in Missouri.

Taylor Thompson, a senior at Notre Dame, said his fellow students had some interesting presuppositions about their New York mission mates.

"We all thought they were going to be the cast from 'Jersey Shore,' like fist-pumping coming off the plane," he confessed. But the high school students became fast friends.

"It's nice. They get to see how we live, and we get to see how they live," Thompson said.

Cultural differences, the students said, quickly disappeared in the shared cause of service, driven by their Christian faith.

The donated wood that makes up the house's walls are covered in Bible verses, a reminder to Charlene Dalton of the love and care that guides its construction.

"I feel like me and my family are living under God's wing," she said.

mkittle@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent address:

325 S. Ellis St., Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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