Students in this spring’s Mennonite Disaster Service class at Eastern Mennonite School in Harrisonburg, Va., built 10 exterior and 18 interior walls for a new home in Hurley, Va., a community still recovering from an August 2021 flood.
The project is a culmination of a trimester’s work for 14 students, most of whom had no construction experience when they registered for the new elective last winter.
Before the students used nail guns and other power tools, they practiced skills on projects such as cutting boards, a birdhouse, a folding table and building a shed on school grounds.
“I never would have thought I could do what I’m now confident doing,” said Fortuana Chipeta. “I know I’ll use these skills for the rest of my life. I love knowing I’ve been part of creating a new home for people who suffered so much loss a few years ago.”
The course came together with input from Woody Driver, chair of the Shenandoah Valley MDS unit; MDS executive director Kevin King; high school principal Justin King; and Paul Leaman, head of school.
Kevin King and Justin King — father and son — brainstormed the idea for several years as a possible way to develop a younger MDS constituency and pilot a program that might be of interest to other Mennonite secondary schools.
The class revived activity in the school’s former shop, which has evolved into robotics class space in recent years and left some equipment lying dormant.
MDS pays for the supplies and teacher, and EMS provides the students, structure and space.
“It’s a win-win-win because our students come away with knowledge about MDS and practical skills,” said Justin King. “MDS comes away with a new generation of volunteers.”
Kevin King is in discussion with other Mennonite schools about similar classes.
Every April, EMS students in grades 6-12 participate in a week of experiential learning. An EMS group returned to Hurley this year to help with MDS projects. While the walls constructed at EMS will be transported to Hurley later this summer, the students found a sense of accomplishment in building a porch and framing another house in the four days they worked in April.