When Olga Riano bought the raffle ticket, she had in her mind the perfect place for the grand prize, a life-size playhouse.
It would be perfect in the backyard of one of her students, Brenda Torres, Riano thought. She even mentioned it to Chris Griffin, the building and construction teacher at Flowery Branch High School whose class was building the house.
Well, Riano didn’t win the house. But she got something even better.
When Griffin realized who would get the raffled house, he instructed his carpentry class to build another one. Except this little house would be to the custom specifications of Brenda, 7, a visually impaired student at Friendship Elementary.
Riano, a teacher for the visually impaired with Hall County Schools, has been working with Brenda since she was 3 and said she’s seen her blossom into an eager, funny elementary student who is a whiz in math and can read Braille at lightning speed. But she’s also getting to the age where a kid needs her own space, and sometimes the games her brother and sister play aren’t the type of things she can do.
But a little house — that would give her a special place all her own, Brenda said on Wednesday during a tour of the nearly complete structure.
“My brother and my sister and my cousins, they play soccer, and I don’t know how to play soccer,” she said, turning toward the tan house with white trim. “They put a table into it, and I’m going to do my homework in it.”
It’s not quite finished yet; Griffin said students have yet to add railings on the front porch, finish the walls and put in flooring. They should be finished in a few weeks, adding touches like foam egg cushioning on one wall and HardiPlank siding on another, which is what Brenda suggested.
The ideas for the interior, said Riano, came from Brenda. She wanted different textures on the floor and the walls, plus orange curtains — her favorite color — and blue carpet. The front porch is already decorated with a shimmering glass wind chime, the gift of one of Brenda’s teachers.
Sean Blair, a Flowery Branch High senior who helped build the house, said they don’t usually finish the insides before they send off the playhouses. But this time, he said, the students were excited about adding the interior details.
“She wants a wall with a texture on it, and we’re trying to fit her needs — and overall she likes it,” he said, noting that special items such as carpeting aren’t usually something that’s easy to come by in the carpentry class.
So, if they need it, they’ll either ask some local merchants for a donation, or they’ll buy it themselves. Griffin added that occasionally, if the students want to add an item that they can’t build, they’ll each pool $5 of their own money to get it.
“If we don’t have it here we can buy it or get it donated,” Blair said. “We’ll pitch in from our own pockets.”
Griffin said the playhouse is one of four the carpentry class has built this year. Another one, recently finished, will be auctioned off to help a local women’s shelter. The class also constructed a castle-themed house for Mule Camp Market last year, among the various community building projects they take on. They’ve built an arbor for junior Master Gardeners and a garden shed for Chestnut Mountain Elementary.
It adds another dimension to the class, Griffin said, when the students know they are not only building a usable structure, but also know it will serve a greater purpose.
“Without this, we would have to build it and tear it apart,” Griffin said. “But this is going to be forever.”
Brenda’s dad, Ricardo Torres, admits he only recently found out about the playhouse — Brenda let the cat out of the bag a couple weeks ago — but he said he’s excited about the opportunity for his daughter and appreciates the care the students are putting into the project.
“It’s something really fun; she likes to have her own space,” he said. “I’m very thankful to the students.”