Cameron Park Elementary School students are helping Habitat for Humanity teach children across the country about the need for safe, affordable housing.
A local film crew and Habitat for Humanity International staff members from Americus, Ga., joined the school’s second- and third-graders this month for a special read-a-long hosted by Habitat for Humanity of Orange County.
DeRon Waller, Orange County Habitat’s volunteer and youth programs coordinator, read the book “A Sunny Spot for Mateo and Blanca” to the students while the film crew documented the event. The book, about a Honduran boy named Mateo and his cat, describes the hardships Mateo’s family endures after losing their home to a hurricane and how Habitat helps them get a new home.
Habitat International invited the students, after hearing the story, to share their thoughts and experiences for the video. Habitat International staff also interviewed Waller, Orange County Habitat’s development director Jennifer Player and Cameron Park third-grade teacher Lisa McCurdy for the video.
Habitat affiliates nationwide will use the video to train volunteers and staff to start similar elementary school programs in their communities.
The event was especially humbling, Habitat officials said, when they learned one of the students had lost a relative to a deadly hurricane in Honduras. The 8-year-old girl, who was interviewed later for the video, said her mother and brother had immigrated to the United States after that.
“It was very much a surprise to all of us,” McCurdy said.
The local Habitat affiliate and the Orange County Schools are partners in the 9-year-old Hands for Habitat program that teaches students about poverty and housing issues. Habitat International contacted them about creating the video, Waller said, because of the county’s strong schools program.
Older county students have helped their young peers build gingerbread houses, birdhouses and furniture for Habitat houses, and the students also visit Habitat neighborhoods to experience how the community has helped. An annual LEGO Blitz Build – set for Thursday, Feb. 26, at Cedar Ridge High School – teaches students about Habitat while pitting them in a home-building competition using LEGOs.
Hands for Habitat also gives students the opportunity to make their own difference. Orange High School construction classes, for example, are building their sixth green-certified home in Hillsborough’s Fairview neighborhood.
District schools, classrooms and clubs work with local businesses and groups to raise money to build the homes. Program sponsor Sports Endeavors, a Hillsborough company, has matched up to $10,000 in donations each year
A single mother and her daughter will move into the newest home this spring, McCurdy said. The girl will be a Cameron Park fourth-grader next year.
Some Cameron Park students know firsthand about poverty and housing, McCurdy said. Roughly 36 percent of the school’s students applied for free and reduced-price lunch in 2012-13.
Others are learning other children don’t have it as well, she said.
Reading a book about one child makes it easier for all students to identify with those families’ challenges, McCurdy said.