GOFFSTOWN - For some Goffstown High students, a research project on the topic of poverty in America spurred them to action. Twelve seniors in Jennifer Beauchemin's English class and three chaperones will travel to Florida during April vacation to participate in a Habitat for Humanity building project.
Looking critically at the issue of poverty was an eye-opener for at least two of the students, Shayla Fontaine, 17, and Tyler Gagnon, 18, both of whom have been the Habitat for Humanity project leaders at GHS, helping to get the trip organized and conducting the fundraising necessary to make the trek to Florida.
"I never realized how big the problem was in the U.S.," said Gagnon. "Living in New Hampshire, we don't see a lot of poverty because we live in one of the richest states."
For Fontaine, gaining an understanding of the issue meant delving heavily into statistics about poverty, which she incorporated into the essay that she and her other classmates had to write in advance of the Florida trip. Fontaine noted that 15 percent of the U.S. population lives below the poverty line, described as an annual household income of $22,314 for a family of four.
"When you think of Florida you think of tourists and the beaches," Fontaine said. "But when you go inland, away from the tourist places, that's where there's a lot of it."
When in Florida, Fontaine and Gagnon and the other GHS students will most likely be assigned to put the finishing touches on the home, as the framing, plumbing and electrical work has already been done.
"We'll probably paint or do some work in the garden," Fontaine said. "The house is mostly finished."
Planning for this project began in October, and it included doing the math to figure out how much it would cost to fly 12 people to Florida for a week, and then feed them. Gagnon and Fontaine determined it would cost $8,000.
"At the beginning we planned on driving down, but we ended up making enough money to fly down," said Gagnon, who added that some teachers voiced skepticism over whether the group would ever reach its goal. But when Gagnon and Fontaine told their teachers at their most recent planning meeting that they had raised nearly all of the money necessary, the teachers expressed surprise.
"They had no idea we raised that much," said Gagnon. "They didn't think we were able to do it, but we did."
After seven months of raffles and manning donation tables outside local retail shops, the group is close to meeting its goal. Students plan to hold a yard sale this weekend in the parking lot of what used to be the former D'Angelo's in Pinardville.
"They did it all themselves," said Beauchemin. "I think it's inspiring what these kids have done, and I would love to see young people doing this kind of thing more often."
The students have learned a little about the family that's going to benefit from living in a new home. Gagnon said it's a family of three, with a 19-year-old son, and one of the parents is a pastor.
"They were living in a neighborhood where the crime rate is high," Fontaine said. "They just wanted to live in a safer place where there aren't so many shootings and murders."
Under Habitat for Humanity rules, new homeowners have to contribute some labor to the construction, so Gagnon and Fontaine said they expect to have some interaction with the people they're going to be helping. When not working, the students said they will be put up in a local church, where they'll sleep and eat their meals. firstname.lastname@example.org