North Shore teens lend a hand to Habitat for Humanity

Spending a few days helping others was just how the teens of the Winnetka Youth Organization wanted to enjoy their summer.

Eight teenagers representing Winnetka, Wilmette and Glenview spent two days in early July helping to revitalize a community in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Partnering with Habitat for Humanity, the YO helped work on a traditional Habitat project, while providing home improvement assistance to two neighboring houses.

“I always wanted to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity,” said Jack Myers, 18, of Winnetka. “It just seemed like a really fun time to be with my friends and volunteer. We got to learn on the job.”

For the past 25 years, the YO has taken part in a service trip, with the organization partnering with Habitat for Humanity for the past three summers.

This year, the work included participation in Habitat’s Brush with Kindness program, which allows volunteers to spruce up existing homes in a Habitat for Humanity neighborhood.

“We got to see how it’s improved the area for the better for the people who live there,” said Johnny Williams, 19, of Wilmette. “Last year was more rural. This year we were actually working on other houses.”

Among the physical challenges included clearing out existing overgrown brush to install a new fence and learning to use power tools.

“Some of the holes we had to dig were really challenging,” said Michael Williams, 17, of Wilmette. “We did a lot of landscaping and dug a lot of holes. It was hot and long hours, but it was really great to help people.”

The teens worked two eight-hour days, which included the landscaping work and some light construction. In the evenings, the group was able to relax at a nearby campground.

“It was challenging, but in a good way,” said Hannah Hidder, 17, of Wilmette. “The year before we didn’t see the people who were going to be living in the house. Meeting them was great.”

Michael Molitor, 18, of Winnetka, has been involved with the Youth Board for the past three years, and was eager to take part in another service trip with his friends from the YO.

“It was rewarding, being able to see the impact that you’re making firsthand,” Molitor said. “It was a great experience.”

With the rising popularity of the service trip, YO Executive Director Kristen Leahy said the organization is looking to expand its offerings. The organization hopes to give everyone a chance to attend, while still leaving the decision making up to the teens.

“We planned it with our Youth Board and they all wanted to go,” Leahy said. “We definitely want to make sure all the teens in the community who want to do the trip have access to it. We as a staff plan the logistics of it, but the ideas of where and when is all up to our Youth Board.”

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