200 players, 1,500 man-hours, one meaningful experience
Mill Creek players donate time, muscle to clean yards

BUFORD - Frank Campbell toiled his Saturday morning away gutting, cleaning and reorganizing a garage that belonged to an old Snellville man he'd never met before.

It was, mused the 14-year-old, a fabulous time.

"This went really well," Campbell said. "We got a lot done."

By "we," Campbell referred to about 200 Mill Creek High School football players, grades 9 to 12, who forfeited weekend rest Saturday for a massive volunteer project dubbed "Helping Hawks."

The Golden Hawks flocked to 17 residences across Gwinnett County, helping elderly folks chop kudzu, whack bamboo, tidy lawns and do basically all other strenuous chores under the sun.

"It's like you're making a difference in the community," said freshman Weston Awtry, 14.

Gwinnett County Senior Services leaders helped to match the Golden Hawks' brawn with elderly citizens from Snellville to Buford in need of helping hands. In its second year, the project boomed from 62 participants last year and, by day's end, had logged nearly 1,500 man-hours.

Gary Galloway, a senior services coordinator, said Mill Creek was the first high school team ever to contact his agency for a project like "Helping Hawks." On Saturday alone, the players chalked up 5 percent of the agency's total volunteer hours for the year, he said.

"The beauty of this is it's a youth-driven project," said Galloway. "They make this happen. And they're working their tails off."

Paul Nallie, 75, would concur. The Golden Hawks turned the Lawrenceville man's kudzu-engulfed jungle of a backyard into an open, sloping expanse in about three hours.

Nallie was pleased enough to forgive the players for obliterating a rosebush he told them not to destroy.

"They done a good job," said Nallie, motioning to his early 1900s single-story. "You couldn't even see the house (before)."

In Lilburn, George Liblick was equally pleased.

"They did their thing and that was it," said Liblick. "Anything I asked them for, they did."

Mill Creek head coach Shannon Jarvis said the 2006 "Helping Hawks" project left players with a residual, positive lesson.

"We learned last year that the players got more out of their service days than they put into it," Jarvis said. "They got character."

Asked if he'll be a part of next year's project, freshman Chris Jones answered directly: "Yes, sir," piped Jones, 14. "It was worth it."