When members of the Newtown Florist Club needed a hand refurbishing their new headquarters, they knew who to turn to.
Now, some three months after being recruited, Gainesville High School construction class students are nearing the end of work that has involved priming and painting, laying tile, and designing and building a handicap-accessible ramp onto the back deck of the new home for the community activism group.
“It came a long way since we started,” said 18-year-old Jason Jones. “I never thought it would look like this.”
On Wednesday, the bustle of activity on another unseasonably warm December morning was punctuated by sounds of miter saws grinding through wooden 2-by-4s and nail guns popping over the din of a radio blasting pop and hip-hop music. Marshalling the 21 kids was Gainesville High construction instructor Keith Vincent, who readily agreed to the job when Newtown Florist Club board member Jonathan Butts approached him for help.
“It’s just a great opportunity for the kids to take what they’ve learned in school and apply it in a real-world setting,” Vincent said. He said the surroundings — an organization dedicated to environmental activism and empowering members of the largely underprivileged Newtown neighborhood — made the job that much more meaningful, he said.
“Just to give them a sense of helping the community is the biggest thing,” he said. “It’s something they can drive by for years to come and say, ‘I contributed to that.’”
The Newtown Florist Club acquired the modest brick, ranch-style home on Desota Street earlier this year to replace its old wood frame headquarters across the street, which the group had outgrown. The club hopes to have an open house in the coming weeks.
The work refurbishing and remodeling the house has not been without trial and error, but the site foreman believes in his young apprentices.
“The workmanship, for their age, is great,” Vincent said.
Newtown Florist Club Executive Director Faye Bush said the teens have gotten behind the project with enthusiasm.
“I think they’re a nice group of kids,” she said. “I just take my hat off to them.”
Board member Butts had praise for Vincent, who he said has shown consummate patience with the teens during the project.
“I’ve never seen him fuss or get mad,” Butts said. “I’ve seen him deal with each and every personality like they were his own children.”
For their part, the teens describe their instructor as “cool.”
“He made it fun,” said 18-year-old Jaquan Harris. “Not like work.”
Said Dreon Downs, 17, “Just being involved with this makes me happy.”