01/28/2012 02:06 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Teen Impact: Finalist #7

This blog post was submitted as an entry in the Teen Impact contest and awarded as a finalist.

I'm a product of the upper middle class, so the houses I have lived in and visited have always been well-appointed, comfortable, and secure. Working with Habitat for Humanity of Forsyth County has awakened my mind to the sub-standard housing that exists in neighborhoods across the country and across the world. I find it disturbing that in a country as rich and developed as the United States, we still have a vast number of people living in miserable conditions due to lack of affordable housing. I've always known that poverty and bad housing are a problem, but working directly with people in these situations has allowed me to replace a generalized idea with names and faces. This actualization has inspired me to become involved now and for the rest of my life.

Last summer I attended the dedication ceremony for a house built with money raised entirely by students from Habitat Youth United, a subsidiary of Habitat for Humanity run entirely by high school students. Until that point I had only a vague idea of the work that Habitat did in the community, and I certainly did not know about Youth United. During the ceremony I saw the joy on the faces of the three kids and hope on the face of their single father, and for the first time I understood that people my age could make a real difference in the lives of people who need it most. I sent my application to Youth United soon after that, and since then I have worked as a school representative on the county's steering committee. Our goal is to raise $65,000 to build a house for a local family this spring.

The commitment has been significant. I attend the two-hour meetings twice each month and volunteer more of my time at fundraising events. I have suggested fundraising ideas, several of which have been put into action, and I have promoted events at my school and throughout the community. When we plan an event we make sure that it will raise money and educate people about housing problems in our county. In November we found out about a grant opportunity from State Farm for youth organizations. We decided to apply for it. Along with three other Youth United committee members, I participated in a conference call with a State Farm representative. We had to speak confidently and answer questions about our advocacy and education goals, fundraising methods, and how the grant money would help our cause. Several weeks later we received the good news that we had won the $10,000 grant.

We are well over halfway towards meeting our goal, and in the spring we will begin building the house. I look forward to that part of the process because it will validate the hard work of fundraising and advocacy. It also means that we will get to recruit more youth from our community to help build the house, which is just as important as the work we do on the steering committee. I know that when I see the family open their front door at the dedication ceremony, it will mean so much more than just wood and nails. It will mean a safe, secure place to raise their children and ensure that they have a steady foundation on which to build their lives. I have confidence and hope that through my efforts, and through the efforts of millions of young volunteers throughout the country, we will chip away at this enormous social deficit and achieve the goal of providing each individual and family with a stable environment in which to live, work, and play.

The experience of working on an education and fundraising committee comprised solely of other high school students has changed my outlook on the kinds of things that my generation can accomplish. I have also begun to consider making a career out of helping people through a non-profit organization like Habitat. If more people my age are empowered to impact the world for the better by being given positions of leadership and responsibility, we will form a tidal wave of change and social good. I strongly believe that what I do this year with my fellow committee members will have many ripple effects through the community, and my generation will find that we have the ideas and the motivation to make a difference right now. We need to be given the opportunity to lead initiatives for the future.