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BUILD freshmen help rescue a home
Annual Georgia Southern program grows volunteer leaders
W 072715 GSU BUILD 02
Incoming Georgia Southern University freshmen Collin Edgar, 18, of Cobbtown, right, Alanna Timmins, 17, of Peachtree City, and Blaine Bishop, 18, of Adarisville, clean up a house at West Inman and South Walnut streets as part of the BUILD leadership program Monday. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

Generations of household debris hit the big green bin outside an old house on West Inman Street as incoming Georgia Southern University freshmen helped the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority with its latest rehab project.

This week's preliminary cleaning will prepare the house for contractors to do extensive renovations. A first-time effort by the DSDA to restore a house for sale to a public servant, it is also one of 15 examples of BUILD students pitching in last week and this with community service projects in Statesboro and Bulloch County.

BUILD students are new GSU freshmen who volunteer, usually forking over $150 for the privilege, for one of two summer sessions combining four days of work with leadership training.

"I feel like it's a way to make an impact before I'm even in school, to make an impact in Statesboro," said Blaine Bishop, 18, from Adairsville in northwestern Georgia.

The interview gave him a brief break from carrying boards and shoveling trash that ranged from rotting clothes and wadded paper to the remains of a Barbie doll.

This is the third year that the DSDA has received the help of BUILD students on one of its projects. But this is the first time that one of those projects has been a house in the Blue Mile corridor.

The Blue Mile is a vision for South Main Street, linking Georgia Southern's campus and downtown, with new landscaping, public spaces and commercial and residential redevelopment.

Specifically, the house at 14 W. Inman St. will be the first in what the DSDA is calling its Homes for Heroes program. The idea is to renovate vacant houses for sale to people in local public service jobs, who would then live in the corridor, said DSDA Executive Director Allen Muldrew.

"We know that for the Blue Mile to be successful, the outlying areas and streets-over need to be prosperous," Muldrew said. "They need to be cleaned up. They need to have owners."

By selling the homes to "police officers, firefighters, maybe even school teachers," he said, the authority hopes to create more stable, owner-occupied homes in these neighborhoods while giving public servants "a good price on a house that says thank you."

To that end, the student volunteer labor should help hold down renovation costs, Muldrew said.

 

Young volunteers

With 59 participating in projects last week and 44 this week, this year's 103 BUILD students make up less than 5 percent of Georgia Southern's new freshmen for the fall semester. Career choices vary, but an interest in service projects and leadership is a common bond.

Bishop's intended major is middle-grades education. At Adairsville High, he was captain of the football team and baseball team. He also played basketball and was senior class vice president. Community service was required for his Beta Club membership, and he mentored children each Friday morning at the local elementary school and worked with Special Olympics.

"This is going to be my home for the next four years, so I feel like this is a great way to get a head start and get to know the community, also get to make some new friends," Bishop said.

Alanna Timmins, 17, from Peachtree City, decided to study to become a nurse "and help out" after an accident landed her in the hospital. At her middle school, she was a member of the Builders Club, which did community service and fundraisers. At McIntosh High School, she was president of the Skills USA Club, which went to skill competitions in graphic design.

So, Georgia Southern's BUILD, or Building Undergraduate Involvement in Leadership Development, is more a transition than a beginning for her.

"I just really wanted to get to know other freshmen coming into Georgia Southern and meet them," Timmins said. "I wanted to build with my leadership skills and help out with the Statesboro community."

The university pitches BUILD to prospective students, beginning with fall receptions in Atlanta and open houses on campus in Statesboro.

Collin Edgar, 18, from Cobbtown, played football and competed in wrestling and track at Pinewood Christian Academy in Bellville. As vice president of the Greater Tattnall Chamber of Commerce's Junior Board of Directors, he also did extensive community service work, volunteering at nursing homes and cleaning up at Gordonia Alatamaha State Park in Reidsville.

His intended major is mechanical engineering. Like some of the other students, Edgar agreed that community service looks good on a resume.

"The engineering field is growing every day ... so you need something to distinguish yourself," he said. "Anything hands-on, making anything, just helps."

But the first thing he had said about BUILD was, "It's a good way to give back."

 

Building leaders

Having attended freshman orientation weeks earlier, this week's volunteers came back to campus Sunday just for BUILD. They went through team-building exercises and the first of the leadership training sessions.

BUILD answers the question "What does that look like, to be a leader in college?" for students who bring leadership experience from high school, said Todd Deal, executive director of the GSU Office of Leadership and Community Engagement.

But the program is open to all incoming freshmen. They self-select, with no qualifying process, he said.

"And they are a great bunch of kids, they truly are," Deal said. "Statesboro often has an idea of the college students - there's not always the best relationship in the world - but these are the best of the best, and I would say this is more typical of our students than the rumors that float around."

About 10 of the BUILD students were at the Inman Street house Monday, while the rest were working elsewhere. Today, a different group of students will be assigned to the house.

Each day, Monday through Thursday, seven teams rotate among the sites. They spend a full day at some and a half day at others, said Wendy Denton, assistant director for service learning.

Most of the agencies getting BUILD help have done so before, including the Boys and Girls Club, the Humane Society, the Food Bank, Fostering Families, Habitat for Humanity, Safe Haven, the Averitt Center for the Arts, the Willow Hill Center, the Portal Heritage Society and Westwood Nursing Home.

Others, including Heart of Dixie Equine Rescue and Heritage Inn, are first-time sites, Denton said.

BUILD accommodates up to 120 students each year, so this year's participation fell short of the maximum.

The $150 fee covers meals and transportation. But donors, often BUILD alumni, provide some scholarships, Deal said.

 

Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.

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