“Most of us live comfortable enough lives, but there’s always something or someone somewhere that could use a hand and there’s work to be done out of volunteerism,” Andersen said. “In any community there’s always room for improvement.”
Bill Andersen, Jake Andersen’s father, volunteers at Advocates for Children. Jake Andersen said the idea to volunteer their spring break came from watching his father dedicate his time as well as from his sister, a Georgia Tech student, who previously spent a spring break in Jacksonville, Fla., building homes for Habitat for Humanity.
“There are 15 kids here, they’re mostly teenagers, they’re here for a month to six months before going into foster care or back to their homes and a lot of them come from a pretty rough environment,” Bill Andersen said. “They didn’t really have a place for the kids to study, but now we have the ability to put computers in ... and provide some sanctuary because things can be challenging.
“It’s amazing what they do for the kids here. ... It just stabilizes [the children] and builds confidence, respect and self respect.”
The improvements include updates to the library, which now features four study/work centers, two new computer systems, new carpeting, new paint and new furniture. The volunteers also improved the kitchen, replacing items like pots, pans and Tupperware and the suggestions for the various improvements came from the shelter.
The mural the group of teens finished had been a work in progress that hit a road block 12 years ago.
Jake Andersen said while the teens wanted to help give those at Flowering Branch comforts of home, the group had to look at what would meet the residents’ needs as a whole, which includes simply having a better place to read and study.
“A lot of this stuff is about what is better used,” Jake Andersen said. “More people can be together in a room, multiple people can be in the library, it’s more about the times in which they can be in a comfortable position with each other. It’s not as much about the physical materials.”
The six students, half male, half female, learned new skills while donating their time. Included is junior Tommy Morrison, who took the role of team leader.
“I’m learning how to delegate and manage somewhat from Mr. Andersen and have generally tried to motivate people to do things. It’s been a learning process,” Morrison said.
While Morrison is approaching his final spring break of high school next year as a senior, he said it was important he dedicate his time to helping the community.
“I feel like it was something that if I didn’t be a part of, I’d regret,” Morrison said. “Most teenagers in high school are spending their spring break inebriated, so for me to come out here and do this, it’s just such an awesome experience that people are missing out on and they should be wanting to do because it really is awesome. It makes you feel good and it makes others feel good and improves others’ lives.”
Sophomore Laura Cottongim said she was happy to assist with the aesthetics needed to make the temporary home more comfortable. For example, helping install lighting over a vanity mirror and finishing the mural.
“In my home I know I like things like that, but if I was taken somewhere else, it would be very hard for me to adjust if I didn’t have those things,” Cottongim said. “The thing is, as teenagers, we just need a nice area to get ready and get dressed. Girls are just that way.”
Executive Director of Advocates for Children Patty Eagar said the efforts of the CHS students are greatly appreciated by the shelter and its residents.
“We’ve needed some improvements for a long time and [the students] saw a need here and just decided to step in and do it,” Eagar said. “... They just really made some great improvements, it really helps us and it instills in them a good feeling for helping kids who aren’t as lucky as they are.
“Right from the start the girls’ living area is vastly improved, it’s a much happier, brighter place so from the moment they get up in the morning every day they’ll be seeing the results of that and they also have two new quiet places for studying and that’s important because so many of the kids who come here to live for a while are behind academically and to have additional study areas will really make a difference to their education.”