Glendale — Most high school students look forward to relaxing and having fun on their summer break.
Nicolet junior Billy Manger opted for something a little more selfless. For his Eagle Scout project, he organized a 20-person volunteer effort to improve the homes of people living in extreme poverty in Hazard, Kentucky.
The 16-year-old Glendale resident coordinated the project with Appalachia Service Project, which repairs homes for low-income families in rural Appalachia. He said he was first exposed to the Appalachia Service Project in the summer of 2013, when his church, Christ Episcopal Church in Whitefish Bay, organized volunteers to improve homes in West Virginia.
Manger said he enjoyed the experience so much that he decided to return the next summer for his Eagle Scout project. He brought 20 people along with him, including family, friends and fellow Christ Church members.
The Appalachia Service Project hooked up Manger with three Kentucky families who were living in trailers with weak floors, poor insulation and no running water. The conditions were so unsafe that one of the volunteers fell through the floor of a trailer.
In one of the trailers, they rebuilt two porches and built an additional porch. Two other trailers needed flooring, insulation and support beams underpinning the trailer.
Manger said he remains in contact with the three families whose homes he helped repair.
"It's gratifying knowing that you did something that will help a family," Manger said. "The owners of those trailers placed a sense of trust in us. They opened up their homes and relied on a bunch of teenagers from the city to improve their homes."
Manger raised $13,700 to make the project happen. He raised the funds by selling Christmas wreaths, hosting spaghetti dinners, selling pies at Easter, and soliciting personal donations through an extensive letter writing campaign. Manger used some of his extra funds to buy a refrigerator for a family that didn't have a refrigerator. They also gave the families quilts and blankets.
"The support we got was unreal," he said.
The experience was so gratifying that Manger said he plans to return as a volunteer next year and become a staff worker for Appalachia Service Project after graduation. He said his volunteer experience in the area has opened his eyes to the needs that exist in one of the poorest areas of the country.
"People don't realize how bad it is down there," he said. "Once you go down there, there is an awakening moment when you realize the world isn't what you thought it was."
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