Students at the Queens High School of Teaching in Bellerose are not only active in the local community but will be getting involved in New Orleans when they travel there to work with Habitat for Humanity.
The school’s Emerson H4H Project was started about five months ago. Staff advisor Gina Valenze has been volunteering with Habitat for Humanity for about five years. She has gone to New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina twice to help rebuild homes.
“That made a major impact on me and I saw first hand the need that still exists down there,” she said. “There’s still a lot of devastation down there. It’s clear to the eye.”
In addition, she said that last year there was a project that educated students about emergency preparedness in New York.
It was Valenze’s experiences with Habitat for Humanity and the emergency preparedness class that helped influence the creation of the Emerson H4H Project.
“We also wanted to get our kids involved in the community and community service,” Valenze said. “We’re encouraging them to give back to help them understand how fortunate they really are and how much they do have and how much they can give to others.”
There are currently about 30 students from grades nine through 12 involved in the project. Valenze said that the school has a program that specifically encourages seniors to find programs in the community to participate in, which is where she started to get students for the Emerson H4H Project. From there, word of mouth helped spread information and got more students involved.
Senior Amanda Turczyn, a resident of Bellerose, said that she had heard Valenze talk about working with Habitat for Humanity for a couple of years, which was why she wanted to get involved in the project.
“It sounded like a great opportunity and I want to actually help people,” Turczyn said.
From March 29 to April 4, 13 of the students from the project will travel to Slidell, Louisiana in suburban New Orleans to work with Habitat for Humanity to assist in building homes for hurricane victims.
In order to fund the trip, students have been participating in various fundraising activities. Each week they have been baking items to sell on a dessert card. On January 23, they held a “Past & Prizes” fundraiser.
“It’s a good thing because you learn a lot of stuff about how people actually like to help,” Turczyn said. “I like to help so it’s working out well. It’s a lot of work but it’s fun and worth it.”
Turczyn, who said she is giving up her senior trip to go to New Orleans, said that she wants to see the faces of the families they will be building the homes with, since they will working doing the construction too. She said it will be fun to see how they react and feel knowing they have a house.
The project is also looking into a day when they can work with the New York City chapter of Habitat for Humanity so that those students who can’t travel to Louisiana can still help build houses.
Another component of the project is to help the community with emergency preparedness.
So far, Valenze said that she has seen the students become more accountable and that they have been taking on a lot of responsibility.
“They want to do this and they’re motivated to do this,” she said.
Anyone interested in making a donation to the Emerson H4H Project can make checks payable to QHST and mail to Queens High School of Teaching, Attention Emerson H4H, 74-20 Commonwealth Boulevard, Bellerose, New York 11426.