Grayson resident Lillie Champion marveled at some of the changes she saw a group of Georgia Gwinnett College students and Habitat for Humanity volunteers had done on her back porch and in her back yard this past Saturday morning.

Rotted decks on the back porch had been removed and replaced with new boards that were subsequently painted to match the color of the remaining boards. The branches from a large tree that fell on a storage shed had been removed and the shed had been largely taken apart.

The students had also cleaned the gutters and repainted the frame around the front door on Champion’s home.

These are all things things that Champion, who is 80 and suffered a stroke a few years ago, wasn’t able to take care of herself anymore.

“It’s been wonderful, just really, really wonderful,” she said as she watched some students clear dirt from the roots of the overturned tree while others took the walls off the damaged shed.

GGC students spent the first half of their spring break — which is this week — working on community service projects with Gwinnett Habitat for Humanity as part of the college’s alternative service break program.

They went to houses as part of Habitat’s Brush With Kindness program to help residents, such as Champion, who have home repair needs that require attention but are unable to fix themselves. They also volunteered at Habitat’s ReStore in Lawrenceville on Saturday.

“This is the student’s scheduled spring break, so usually for alternative service break, we want to afford students the opportunity to get involved in the community, to do some community service, to do some community engagement, to do some service learning and really just reflect on the experience of serving in the community,” said Nury Castro, GGC’s assistant director of community engagement and service. “We usually travel out of state. We’ve gone places like Washington D.C., we’ve gone to Florida, we’ve gone to New Orleans.

“But, with COVID-19, we couldn’t travel far and so just to stay safe and follow some of those protocols, we stayed local.”

The effort at Champion’s home was one of two projects GGC students took on Saturday as part of alternative service break. Students also did similar home improvement work at the home of a Loganville-area resident.

Habitat for Humanity Director of Programs Jen Welch said the organization had a backlog of about 30 Brush With Kindness projects that needed to be done, and the help from the students has helped make a dent in that list.

“To be able to have them for four days to help us, we’re going to be able to take care of five homeowners in four days so it’s a huge benefit for us just in terms of having this amount of people power and to be able to take five names off of our growing 30-plus list for us is huge,” Welch said.

GGC senior chemistry student Jes Ivbaze said this was the first time he has done an alternative service break project, even though he has done other service efforts in the past. He helped replace and paint the board on Champion’s back porch before turning his attention to slapping a fresh coat of white paint on the frame for her front door.

Ivbaze, who lives in Lawrenceville, said the most important part of the projects done this week is the benefits the homeowners will have from the improvements the students made to the homes they visited. He also said he liked the fact that the projects were in GGC’s backyard this year.

“Before you travel east and west here to help someone, I think it’s better to start at your home,” Ivbaze said. “So, to know these opportunities exist so close to home, I think it’s very important that I start here.”

And, Champion said the student’s efforts at her home were a “tremendous help” to her.

“I’m a senior, I’m 80-years-old and I cannot afford to keep the house up,” she said. “You know things were happening all the time and there just was no way I could do it ... (This) is just great.”

I'm a Crawford Long baby who grew up in Marietta and eventually wandered to the University of Southern Mississippi for college. Earned a BA in journalism (double minor in political science and history). Previously worked in Florida and Clayton County.

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