ROCHESTER — Soon Aquinas Institute students will be able to point to the difference they have made in one troubled Rochester neighborhood.
Aquinas students are starting a high-school chapter of Flower City Habitat for Humanity, which builds affordable housing in the City of Rochester. The Aquinas chapter is making plans to fund and build a home in the spring of 2010.
Working at a Habitat job site over the summer through a weeklong immersion project, several Aquinas students said they were eager to get involved in Habitat for Humanity because they wanted to restore Rochester neighborhoods.
"(Habitat) really gives you something you can change," said Joey Vay, 17, an Aquinas senior who lives in Irondequoit. "You kind of feel like there’s nothing you can do."
"Fifty years later, you can drive by and say, ‘I built this,’" said Aquinas senior Nick Croce, 17, president and a founding member of the chapter.
Although most area colleges have Habitat for Humanity affiliates, the Aquinas chapter is the first high-school chapter in the area.
"It’s very exciting that they have been able to do this," said Sister of St. Joseph Sue Hoffman, the high-school and college program coordinator for Flower City Habitat for Humanity. "In all of New York state, only five high schools have a campus chapter."
Some of the Aquinas chapter’s founders took part last year in the first-ever Flower City Habitat for Humanity’s Summer Youth Immersion program. This year, students from Aquinas, Nazareth Academy and Brighton High School participated in the Aug. 17-21 program.
During the program, students lived in community at the St. Boniface convent, took a poverty tour of the city, toured Habitat’s headquarters and Charles Settlement House, and took a walking tour of the South Wedge neighborhood with Cynthia Howk, architectural research coordinator of the Landmark Society of Western New York.
Students also worked at Restore, a Habitat store at 755 Culver Road that sells donated home-construction items and home furnishings to benefit Flower City Habitat for Humanity. Students also learned about lead poisoning operations and met with current and future Habitat homeowners.
"I like Habitat because it gives you a hands-on experience," said Natalia Ortega, 17, of Rochester, a senior at Nazareth Academy. She noted that no construction experience is required to get involved; volunteers are taught on the job site how to perform the tasks they are given.
"I think it’s awesome that (Habitat volunteers) are trying to help out the city and give a home to those who can’t afford it," said Nazareth Academy senior Karelyne Torres, 17, of Rochester.
Peter Horton, 17, a senior at Aquinas, said he and some of his friends got involved in Aquinas’ Habitat so they could help the city. He said his parents have done some Habitat volunteer work in the past.
"Work hasn’t been too hard," said Peter, who attends St. Joseph Parish in Penfield. "It’s kind of fun being here with kids I know and with kids I’ve met."
In addition to the efforts at the high-school level, Sister Hoffman noted that area colleges have also have been getting more involved in Habitat. For instance, students at Rochester Institute of Technology are working to design, fund and build a home that will feature energy-efficient innovations, including solar panels donated by O’Connell Electric and outlets that can be turned off when not in use. The home is sponsored by RIT, RIT’s Habitat for Humanity and Engineers for a Sustainable World.
"This (sustainable home) is a wonderful way of using the talents and resources that we can build on in the Rochester area," Sister Hoffman said.