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A perfect fit: Playhouse grants wish

Man with Down syndrome to get customized gift

POSTED: January 18, 2008 5:04 a.m.
Joshua Robbins was one of thousands of people who dropped a raffle ticket into a bucket outside several playhouses displayed on the Gainesville square at Mule Camp Market in October.

Local high school construction students spent months carefully crafting each playhouse to be raffled off to benefit Habitat for Humanity, and raised a total of $17,000 for the home-building agency.

Students built playhouses inspired by the television show "The Dukes of Hazzard," or the blockbuster film "Harry Potter."

But it was the Georgia Bulldog themed house that caught the eye of 20-year-old Robbins, a junior at Flowery Branch High School who has Down syndrome.

"I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, if he doesn’t win, his heart is going to be broken,’" said Lisa Robbins, Joshua’s mother.

Only a handful of tickets were pulled from the pails, and Joshua didn’t win.

But Gainesville High School construction teacher Keith Vincent, as well as Chestatee High School construction teacher Baker Pulliam and East Hall High School construction teacher Jeff Little, perceived the loss as an opportunity.

"As soon as we all met him, we all said the same thing: ‘Let’s build a house for Josh,’" Vincent said.

"I burst into tears because I didn’t know what to think," Lisa Robbins said, and added that it’s difficult for Joshua to find toys suitable for him.

"He can get a Little Tikes plastic kitchen to play with, but he can’t sit in a little kid’s plastic chair. He’ll break it — he weighs as much as an adult man," Lisa Robbins said.

"He just wants to play and have fun ... but when you’re a 20-year-old boy with the mind of a 4-year-old, and you want to play with those toys and you want to let your imagination fly, it’s hard to fit because there’s not much out there for him," she said.

Vincent entertained three different house design ideas that Joshua Robbins suggested, and he combined the three designs and set to work with more than 50 students from Gainesville, Chestatee and East Hall high schools to build a custom-fit Dr. Seuss-themed house for Joshua.

Two months in the making, the "topsy turvy" playhouse is slated to be finished in the next two weeks. The finishing touch will be a fresh touch of "Grinch green" paint. Lisa Robbins said her son has helped students to build the house and is highly entertained by their interest in playing games with him.

She said it has been refreshing to watch students laugh with Joshua rather than at him.

Vincent said the pleasure found in the playhouse project is mutual.

"The students have a great sense of pride in building it. It’s just meant a lot to them," Vincent said.

And the Gainesville High School construction students have been diligently working on the house for an hour during each school day since October, while other high schoolers have put in time on the playhouse after school.

Vincent said the Habitat for Humanity Women’s Build program also has been instrumental in obtaining materials for the project. He added that an anonymous $2,000 donation funded the construction project.

"Joshua likes anything different and unique and out of the ordinary, because, well, he’s different, unique and out of the ordinary," Lisa Robbins said. "For him to have the opportunity to have this is just amazing."



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