Cambridge hosts high school Habitat crew

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Dorchester Banner/Gloria Rojas
Kids from the Landon School in Bethesda joined Habitat for a renovation project on Oakley Street.

CAMBRIDGE — Once the house on Oakley Street in Cambridge stood empty, boarded up, an eyesore on a block where many homeowners have attractive houses and yards. Habitat for Humanity usually builds new houses to provide homes for families. But on Oakley Street, Habitat is using its new technique of totally renovating boarded-up, abandoned and foreclosed properties, eliminating sad eyesores detrimental to blocks. Completion means providing a beautiful, new home for a family that has met the requirements of debt-elimination, training, and work hours. This house will be bought by Shaquanda Demby and her family.

The renovation process reminds one of the HGTV programs where the electrician walks in and says the electrical system violates codes, the plumber says the pipes have to be replaced, and the project director wants the walls taken down to the studs. Still, it is an easier job than a new build.

On this day, Steve Martinsen of Ruark Boatworks, who built Miss Polly, the lighthouse boat, is working with a crew of students giving this house a new skin of cedar siding. This volunteer crew is special. They are high school scholar-athletes from the Landon School in Bethesda. They have joined English teacher David Smith, volunteering to cross the bay to build up Cambridge. They spend a week of their summer vacation. You have to ask why. Shaun Shi, a sophomore, says he responded to the recruiting e-mail because he knows he will practice old skills and learn new ones, he will have a good time and solidify friendships, and because he wants to give back. It’s a value all the boys share.

The student crew works from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The day is very hot and still they lift, saw and hammer without complaint. Like all Habitat volunteer crews, there is a range in the abilities they bring to the job. Rhodana Fields, the Habitat Construction manager, is on her eighth Habitat house and she has high praise for the high schoolers. ”Some have never swung a hammer before, others have acquired some skills. They are all hard workers.”

The students work their shift and then return to their hotel with a pool. They have even gone to Bethany Beach after a day’s work. They deserve a break. After all, when it comes to contributing, they’ve nailed it!

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Steve Martinsen (right) of Ruark Boatworks assists in measuring technique.

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