The house that RHS Youth Initiative built

Kids are always up to something. At Rockford High School (RHS), the Youth Initiative club proved they were up to the organization’s most ambitious project ever. On Wednesday, June 2, the results of their year-long labor were presented before the media, school officials and a family filled with gratitude.

UNSTOPPABLE—Members of Rockford Youth Initiative, school officials and the Cisneros family stand on the porch of the home the students bought from the City of Grand Rapids and rehabbed for Habitat for Humanity. They didn’t let busy lifestyles, a down economy or an overwhelming project dampen their enthusiasm for their service project. The Cisneros family—parents Froylan and Dawn with Jacob, 6, Jerry, 4, and Andrew and Amalia, 3—sits on the steps.

Youth Initiative is a high school club that adopts an annual service project. A year ago, the group decided to partner with Habitat for Humanity to give a family the chance to own a home of their own. Twelve months, 38,000 dollars and 2,000-plus volunteer hours later, the Cisneros family—a husband, wife and three young children—took possession of a two-story, rebuilt-from-the-studs-up family home in a quiet neighborhood in Grand Rapids. They had been living in a trailer with three children sharing one bedroom and the whole family sharing one small bathroom.

Youth Initiative counselor Dan Modderman said he recalled the meeting a year ago when four girls came into his office with a proposal. They said they wanted a Habitat for Humanity home to be the Youth Initiative service project and would he approve it. “It’s been quite a journey,” Modderman said of the ensuing time. “There have been some dark moments, but they saw this through to its fruition and see the family take possession. Their positive attitude has been great.”

The kids took on the challenge of raising funds with a community games day during the first Heirloom Tomato Festival last summer outside Reds on the River.

Andrew Cisneros, 3, looks out the window of his new home. “I love upstairs,” he said of the house that Rockford Youth Initiative rehabbed for their service project.

“They showed tireless dedication,” said RHS Principal Dan Zang. He praised the students for finding creative ways to raise the incredible total they needed to purchase a foreclosed home from the City of Grand Rapids and then have it rehabilitated. “They played music in neighborhoods, they held bake sales, and RHS staff were willing to take a pie in the face at lunch time for the cause.”

Ashley Gremel, who was among students interviewed by television news crews, called the year “a roller coaster with a lot of swinging hammers at the house.”

Students also learned about approaching businesses to solicit help and funding. Rick Schroeder of Nugent Builders said the kids approached that company hoping for a check. “We are like everyone else,” Shroeder said. “We told them we couldn’t fund the project, but we know how to remodel a home.”

Schroeder said there was some tricky framing that had to be done to accommodate an upstairs bathroom and the roofline needed to be changed. Nugent Builders was one of over a dozen businesses, individuals and groups that did what they could to get the work done.

Habitat for Humanity spokespersons were at the dedication, also praising the hard work of all involved. Habitiat’s Kathy Forzley said the company offers help up, not a hand out, and the Cisneros family will pay a mortgage on the home in addition to the requirements of hundreds of hours working on the house that they put in. Jacob Cisneros, 6, said he was very happy that they were going to have two bathrooms.

“You are looking at the future when you look at these young people,” said Dr. Michael Shibler, Rockford Public Schools superintendent. “These are representative not only of Rockford High School, but of West Michigan and the nation. We are in good hands.”

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