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Shelter Island students help build Patchogue house

Students from Shelter Island High School secure the

Students from Shelter Island High School secure the front wall to the base plate. Fourteen volunteers from Shelter Island High School help to raise the walls of a new Habitat for Humanity home for the Jean-Francois, Haitian-American family in East Patchogue. (January 23, 2010) Credit: Newsday/Photo by Joseph D. Sullivan

A group of Shelter Island students helped raise the first walls of Monique and Joseph Jean-Francois' dream home Saturday.

The 13 high school students started work on a Habitat for Humanity project in Patchogue. The Jean-Francois family joined the students and a handful of Habitat employees.

The couple now lives with their 8-month-old daughter in a cramped one-bedroom apartment in Huntington Station. A son, 24, in Haiti and another boy, 10, whom they are adopting, were displaced by the earthquake and are now living with relatives there while they wait for visas.

The family hopes to be together when they move into a two-story home with large windows and a spacious yard. As part of the deal, they'll help with the construction of this house and other Habitat projects.

"I feel so happy," said Joseph Jean-Francois, 48, a home health aide in Bay Shore. His wife, 34, works as a nursing assistant in Melville. "There's so many people. To see kids working here, that's a big thing."

Both the high schoolers and the Jean-Francois family signed up with Habitat months before the earthquake. "It feels nice to play a part in a bigger role and really feel like you're helping someone," said Gina Giambruno, 17, a Shelter Island senior.

Schools that participate in Habitat projects must have at least 10 students who will work on the project and $1,000 in pledges.

To raise the money, members of the school's National Honor Society built a village of cardboard houses on the front lawn and spent a November night in the village with sleeping bags. By sunrise, they had $3,200.

As yesterday's work began, the only sign of a house was the concrete foundation. The students grabbed work helmets and hammers and started to nail together planks of wood that would form the house's first wall, supervised by Habitat staff.

When it was built, everyone took hold, pulled it up and slid it into place, to cheers. By midafternoon, they had raised all four sides of the first level and installed wood sheathing.

They'll be invited back to see the finished product. Habitat officials expect to complete the house by June.

"I don't even have any knowledge of how to hammer a nail correctly," said Katie Siller, 17. "So to put up a house is pretty amazing."

Monique Jean-Francois agreed. "I have no words to explain it," she said. After a moment, she offered these: "Lucky. Grateful."

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