Written by Petty Officer 3rd Class Cory Mendenhall.
On any given Saturday you can walk by 9 Jefferson Avenue in New London, Conn., and hear the pounding of hammers, the buzzing of saws and the cheery banter of U.S. Coast Guard Academy cadets. This is the site of the first Habitat for Humanity home that is being fully funded and built by Coast Guard hands.
Current Coast Guard Academy cadets, along with the Alumni Association, the CGA Parents Association and the Institute for Leadership, have teamed up with Habitat for Humanity to raise this first project of its kind.
The idea came to First Class Cadet Kathryn Weber in 2010, after she and some other cadets had been helping on a separate Habitat for Humanity build.
“On the ride back, we were talking about how much we loved going out and helping,” said Weber. “So I was thinking, wouldn’t it be cool if we could do this every weekend?” Weber approached her command with the idea, and from that instant, the Alumni Association was behind her and the project began to gain momentum.
At first, the organizers were concerned that there might not be enough volunteers or labor to take on such a massive project, but news of the build was stirring around campus and a wave of support quickly overwhelmed them.
“We sent out the spreadsheet for sign-ups for the first semester,” said Second Class Cadet Anthony Monteforte, project leader for the 2014 Class. “And it filled up in two days.”
The build, which began Aug. 15, 2012, has created a unique magnetism for cadets and other volunteers. Everyone wants to be a part of it.
“It’s becoming an attitude and institution within the academy,” explained Monteforte. “People want to do the house, they want to have put hours into this house.”
“The cadets I’ve talked to love it,” said First Class Cadet Jessica Ward. “It’s a project you can come back to in thirty years with your kids and say, I helped build that house with my best friends.”
Each Saturday and many Sundays, different groups of cadets and other volunteers show up at the site to lend a hand. These groups range from Academy sports teams, cadet clubs, and even a Chief Warrant Officers Academy class.
“I think the impact is more us growing together,” said Ward. “We’ve all contributed and put our work into building this house.”
Not only does each build day bring progress to the physical home, it fosters camaraderie among those volunteering. In addition to the good feelings gained from service, cadets involved in the project are honing valuable skills that will benefit them as officers in the U.S. Coast Guard.
“A big part of the project is learning to manage the logistics of everything,” said Weber. “You’re getting people out, scheduling and learning the communication aspect of it.”
“You’re learning to be adaptive and be able to handle different situations,” added Monteforte.
The project is also helping to strengthen the relationship between the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and the community it’s been a part of since 1932.
“It’s good to get the Coast Guard name out there,” said Monteforte. “And to show that we’re doing good things so when people see the Coast Guard or the Coast Guard Academy, they associate it with something positive.”
The house is scheduled to be finished in April 2013. Every Saturday and many Sundays until that date, the build site will be buzzing with eager cadets, lending many hours to the good of the community. While the fatigue of physical labor is temporary, the bonds made and the fulfilling feelings born at the build site will last a lifetime.
“It’s so rewarding,” said Monteforte, “that everyone’s coming together and providing a family a home. It’s just an incredible experience and an incredible feeling.”