If you follow world news, it’s easy to get discouraged - to feel helpless in the face of so much violence, suffering and destruction, but a group of Virginia builders have found a way to improve conditions and to raise spirits.
This story begins more than a dozen years ago, when Charlottesville builder Jack Stoner took a trip to the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere - Haiti. He was there to help reforest the land and build a compound to support that work. In a documentary about the Building Goodness Foundation, he and co-founder Michael Cernik recall the work they did there:
“I just ended up having this crazy idea that I should take people from Charlottesville and we should go down and help finish this project, because of all the good it was doing an also because there was just this extraordinary need. We see that the work that we do, even though it’s building something … neat experience.”
Today, they recruit volunteers throughout the year, raise money and materials to build clinics, schools, churches, community centers and simple houses made from panels.
Executive director Kelly Epley says 200 homes have been built since the earthquake more than 300 years ago, and 400 more are planned. The key was to train Haitians to do the work.
Building Goodness is also at work beyond Haiti, in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. They helped rebuild a community in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina, volunteered at the Mattaponi Reservation near Richmond and recently worked with more than 200 students from the Darden School of Business to rehab eight houses in Charlottesville. One of them belonged to Linda Felton, a 53-year-old woman who’s been sidelined by health problems. Students installed a new floor, furnace and porch roof, patched holes, painted walls, put on storm doors and removed rubble from the backyard. This is Felton’s second year getting help from the program, and she thinks it’s amazing.
“It really helps a lot of people who, like for me, didn’t have any idea how I was going to get this stuff done. Last year they did so much, I wasn’t expecting to be blessed again, because I didn't sign up. They told me they wanted to do something the next year," she said.
Not only did students dedicate their time, but they raised the money needed to make repairs, and Building Goodness says its work is more than wood and plaster, bricks and mortar - it’s building relationships with people around the world.