By Heidy Brosofsky-Weaver
Charles Dickens, a famous Victorian novelist, once wrote, “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”
This philosophy of making a positive difference in the lives of others is not only an old adage, but also it is a New Year’s goal for some members of Creekside High School’s Engineering Club. As part of an ongoing program in collaboration with St. Johns Housing Partnership, students visit the homes of elderly or recently disabled people to build accessibility ramps and help with other tasks.
“You are directly making a difference, and you can see the results,” said Elyse Soracco, a Creekside junior.
Recently, club members had an unexpected history lesson during a visit with World War II veteran, John B. Patterson. While watching the students clean his yard, build a shelf, and construct a platform for his mobility scooter, he recalled memories of his own youth. Patterson said he was 19 when he reluctantly found himself on the shores of Normandy, France, on D-Day.
“He was eager to share his stories with the younger generation so that we could pass them on,” said Creekside senior Lauren Philip.
The 96-year-old St. Augustine artist and author recollected several stories found in his emotional book, “One Soldier’s WWII War in 1944 Europe.”
“He talked about challenges like marching through Germany in the winter,” said Soracco. However, what stood out to her the most was the human element of survival. “In one village, he said it was very foggy. No one wanted to fire, and both sides were happy they couldn’t see to shoot.”
Both Soracco and Philip realized the importance of assisting elderly in the community and learning from them.
“He (Patterson) helped us as much as we helped him,” said Philip. The four-year Engineering Academy student said that these projects allow teens to see a different world from their own — one that is not as privileged. “The ramp project is a way for students to humble themselves.”
Philip added that the group hopes to also build an accessibility ramp and rebuild steps and a deck for Patterson, who is a Bronze Star, Silver Star, and Purple Heart recipient. Although St. Johns Housing Partnership provides the necessary supplies for many projects, Philip said students wanted to contribute personally and raised additional money. “We are helping real people. They’re not just a number.”
Kevin Davenport, director of the Creekside High Engineering Academy, has been involved in this project for 10 years.
“It’s usually hard, physical labor,” said Davenport. This fact combined with personally meeting the recipient “creates an impactful experience for my students.”
In addition to this program, students in Creekside’s Engineering Academy are able to participate in various real-life opportunities, enabling them to apply knowledge and earn industry certifications. When Soracco first joined the Academy three years ago, she wasn’t sure if this was the right path for her. Now, she knows she will have the skills needed to pursue a career in an engineering field.
Visit www.sjhp.org for more information or to donate to the St. Johns Housing Partnership.
Photo courtesy of Kevin Davenport
Creekside High School Engineering Academy students with World War II veteran, John B. Patterson.