At Habitat house, a day of sun, sweat and spackle


BP Photo by Sharona Sedighim

CHESED: Seniors Sarah Soroudi and Annie Asch paint a Habitat house last month.

By Tamar Willis, Editor-in-Chief

The smell of sunscreen, sweat and sawdust permeated the air at 3305 Magnolia Avenue in Lynwood on Apr. 9. Instead of sitting in classes that day, seniors were lifting planks, spackling and sanding at a construction site in Lynwood, southern L.A. County, as part of the school’s new “Impact14” community service program.

It was early, and students trickled in from 8:15 to 8:30 a.m. in a neighborhood far from the comfort of Beverlywood and Beverly Hills. The construction site was two lots in a residential neighborhood that will eventually have seven homes built by Habitat for Humanity.

As of that morning, three of the homes had been mostly built.

“Honestly, I’m surprised they gave us so much responsibility,” said senior Liat Bainvoll.

After some quick introductions, the seniors’ first task was to transport disassembled scaffolding from behind one house to concrete slabs across the lot,

where they would be used for the future homes.

Students then split into groups with different tasks. Some painted wood planks that would become trim, while others spackled and sanded the wood that was already up. One group filled a gas pipe trench with dirt by shoveling and packing dirt into the deep trench.

Though the work was unfamiliar for students, senior Josh Einalhori felt comfortable with it.

“The staff did a good job of teaching us how to do the work,” Josh said. “After a few short lessons I really felt like I knew what to do and how construction works.”

Students broke for lunch at 11:30 with sweat dripping and dirt speckling their skin, but without complaints. As they ate, Habitat’s Alena Griffin, who is the organization’s Americorps Youth Programs Coordinator, gave some background to the organization.

Since 1990, she said, the organization has built over 800 homes for families in need, 400 of which are in L.A. county. She also said the specific project that Shalhevet was working on, which began in October, is expected to be complete in August.

Though the day was part of the Impact14 program — the new community service initiative for Shalhevet’s second semester seniors — for various reasons not all seniors participated. For some, the fact that former President Jimmy Carter was so closely identified with the organization was a deterrent. President Carter became involved with the organization in 1984 and has publicized and contributed to its work ever since then.

“I didn’t go because the establishment of organization was assisted by Carter and my views and my family’s views don’t align with his…,” said senior Hannah-Leeba Ellenhorn. “There are other places we could have gone to and his anti-semitic views make what we were doing seem very unappealing to me.”

For others, it seemed like a good opportunity to go to the beach.

“I don’t have a reason really,” said senior Scotty Silver, who headed to the and of Santa Monica instead. “I just didn’t want to go. I can volunteer for different things, and I do other [community service] stuff outside of school.”

But those who did attend felt that it was an experience unlike any other community service project.

“I really felt like I was a part of something today,” said Matthew Denitz as the day wrapped up. “In a lot of the community service we do, we don’t necessarily see the results, but here we were able to see exactly what we were doing and how it would help someone.”

Liat noted that much of the service students have done while at Shalhevet has been raising funds.

“It was very fulfilling to actually do something hands-on instead of just donating money to a cause,” said Liat.