Roanoke College Freshmen Building 2-story House

By: AP
By: AP
Roanoke College freshmen get first assignment: Build a house

Photo from Roanoke College

Sept. 2, 2013

ROANOKE, Virginia (AP)— A two-story house is going up on Roanoke College's campus, and posted at the construction site is a cheerful-but-daunting hand-painted sign: "For every bent nail, (Justin) Bieber writes another song ... " the poster warns, offering incentive for those not fond of the perky pop star's oeuvre to hammer with care.

"We try to keep it fun," said Jesse Griffin, director of the school's Center for Civic Engagement, who's coordinating the work.

The house, temporarily consigned to the parking lot at Olin Hall, is the college's annual Habitat for Humanity project. It will be built across three days, then trucked in four pieces to a parcel of land at Tenth Street and Patterson Avenue.

This is the eighth year the school has built what it dubs an "R-House," and once again the college will involve all of its 650 incoming freshman in the construction. Each new student spent an hour-long shift swinging a hammer, advancing the project and, in many cases, gaining experience.

"I have students that have done Habitat work before, but for a lot of them, this is something new," Griffin said.

Pacing the work is tricky, he said, scheduling just right so that it finishes exactly on schedule — not too early and not too late — and allows the entire class to take part.

"I have to make sure all my freshmen get the experience," Griffin said.

"I've done projects like bird houses with my cousins, but nothing of this scale," said Ana Arriaga, 18, of Connecticut, who recently was pounding nails into two-by-sixes to secure floor joists.

"It's an incredible feeling that in three days, we'll have a house," said Mollie Gleason, a senior who has worked on Habitat houses all four years she's been at Roanoke College, and who has participated in similar projects in South Carolina, New Orleans and Guatemala.

The three-bedroom house is being built for Dilli and Sabitra Dahal, a couple from Bhutan who spent 19 years in a Nepalese refugee camp before coming to the United States.

Together, the Dahals had to perform 300 hours of Habitat service to be eligible for the program, which offers recipients interest-free home loans.

The couple and their 13-month old son should be able to move into the finished home sometime in late December, just before the holidays.

"We're not just building a house," said Kayla Fuller, a student and volunteer. "We're helping them have a home."

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