South Allegheny Middle/High School art teacher Ellen Eyth wanted her eighth-grade students to experience giving back to the community, and an arts project for Habitat for Humanity put them on the right path.
"The kids put so much effort into this knowing they would never see it again, but that it will brighten someone else's backyard," she said.
For the project, 14 pairs of students designed and created 14 mosaic steppingstones, each 10 inches in diameter, to help landscape homes that Habitat's Greater Pittsburgh group will refurbish this summer for qualifying families in Sharpsburg, Braddock, McKeesport and West Mifflin.
Besides helping others, the students learned to plan, design and see a project through to completion while developing communications and collaborative skills, Mrs. Eyth said.
"I like that we got to design and decorate our stone ourselves," Lena Lundy said of a stone she created with classmate Gabi Furey that featured a musical note.
Elizabeth Handra partnered with Carly James for a stone covered with a colorful circle.
"It felt good to help someone," Elizabeth said.
Derek Morris, volunteer coordinator of the local Habitat, based in Braddock Hills, said young teens are targeted for such projects.
"We ... love to engage students too young to volunteer to work at the site but who are already interested in making the community a better place," he said.
Habitat for Humanity provides affordable housing for low-income families. Since its founding in 1976, the nonprofit international organization has helped build or repair more than 600,000 homes.
In lieu of a cash down payment, qualifying families must invest a minimum of 350 hours of "sweat equity time," volunteering at project sites or in Habitat's ReStore in Edgewood.
Families buy the house from Habitat, which holds the interest-free mortgage agreement. The monthly payments are then used to rehabilitate additional houses.
Since 1986, the Pittsburgh branch has built or renovated nearly 80 homes.
The art project began with the sketching of designs for the stones. The next day, glass was laid over the sketches, and each team was given plastic molds containing concrete. The artists pressed the pieces of glass onto the surface of the wet concrete.
After drying, the stones were removed from the molds.
The students also painted two outdoor signs with their own designs for future Habitat homes. One reads: "This project is sponsored by Habitat for Humanity," and the other: "Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative."
Mr. Morris plans to visit the art class today to thank students and collect the stones and signs.
Rich Baur, who partnered with Cole Kamarnisky to create a sunset-over-water image on his team stone, said while he liked that each team crafted its own design, the artistry pales when compared to the project's mission.
"The best part was we're helping people less fortunate," he said.
For details or to donate: Mr. Morris at email@example.com or 412-351-0512, ext.14.
Margaret Smykla, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.