Students from Penn State University recently helped the Flint River Fuller Center build houses in Warwick.
Kathleen Prilutski, right, organized the Penn State side of the trip, finding 16 other students eager to travel
south to spend their spring breaks swinging hammers and helping someone in need.
WARWICK, Ga. -- A brigade of eager students, most of them aspiring engineers, dropped in from Penn State University last week to enjoy the south Georgia climate and to help some people build a house.
After braving nasty weekend weather, 17 of them were swinging hammers on Monday morning.
Swarming over the house in progress, the Penn State volunteers worked shoulder to shoulder with members of the Flint River Fuller Center at Lake Blackshear, the Warwick organization initiating the project.
"We call this the 'Wendy Martin Legacy Build' to honor Wendy's memory and the service and commitment she and her husband Roy provided," said Gretchen Gay, a Fuller volunteer
According to Gay, as a member of United Methodist Church in Warwick, Wendy Martin had been active in the home-building initiative, encouraging other members to "get off their duffs" and get something done. Gay said church members ultimately went to the Fuller Center for Housing, headquartered in Americus, and established a branch office in Warwick.
"Our Fuller organization is separate from the church, even though about 95 percent of its members attend our church," Gay said. "We realized that the Fuller organization offered the experience and expertise we needed."
This is the first project for the Warwick group, Gay said indicating a near-completed home on Cherry Street and the foundation for another next door. The recipients of the first home -- Walter Vinson, age 65 and his wife, Erica -- will pay an undisclosed "affordable" price through a no-interest, 25-year mortgage. The Vinsons were selected through an application process, the Fuller selection board having determined them to be the most deserving.
Walter Vinson, who said he has been disabled since November, had been working as a farm laborer and living with his wife in a home provided by his employer. According to the Vinsons, the old house is in bad shape and totally without insulation or air conditioning. While they appreciated the accommodations, they wanted their own home.
"By the grace of God and the wonderful people in this organization, we'll have our new home," Walter Vinson said.
Most of the Penn State crew have little or no building experience, they said, but all are learning what they could from veteran Fuller volunteers like Frank Lott, a local builder who put in four years as a past Fuller chairman and helps to ramrod progress.
"When (the students) started Monday morning, there were no doors on the house," Lott said. "There were no windows, shingles or siding either. They all went right to it and have hardly stopped for anything."
Greg Platt, owner of Greg Platt Construction, said he came to help Frank out because "he couldn't supervise the kids alone."
"I'm loving it," Platt said. "(The students) are all so eager to help, and with a great, caring attitude. You couldn't find a better group."
The student work force was arranged by the Fuller headquarters in Americus with one of the Penn State crew, Kathleen Prilutski, bringing it together on her end. Prilutski admitted her first choice had been for Louisiana, where she'd done similar work last year.
"I'm so glad we came, though," Prilutski said. "We have so much opportunity that others don't, and now we have a chance to help someone and pay it forward. Everybody's so nice down here. We don't want to leave."
While no stranger to serving others, Andrew Balliet, a student in actuarial statistics, said he'd never had the opportunity to meet the people he helped. Plus, he said it was a nice way to spend spring break -- enjoying the warm weather and the people down South.
"Everyone's so generous and nice," Balliet said. "I'm glad to be here, and if I get the opportunity next year I'll be back. I'd like to build my own home one day, and this is great experience."
Bryan Williams, another Penn State student, said the experience exceeded his expectations.
"I've never been to south Georgia before," Williams said. "When Kathleen asked me to come, I went right for it. Walter and Eric (Vinson) are so appreciative, and all of us have been talking about the Southern hospitality."
Shauntel Davis, a biology major, said she wanted to learn home-building and be of service to others at the same time.
"My parents don't know it yet, but they're not going to see me next spring break ... the others, yeah, but not the spring," she said.
When Friday arrives, the Penn State volunteers are homeward bound, leaving the houses to the down-home crew. Their work was "great while it lasted," but according to Gay, "volunteers are still gratefully welcomed."
For information, go online to www.fullercenter.com/flintriver or call (229) 535-4201.