Students at Lake Norman Christian School in Huntersville put away their pens for a day last week in favor of hard labor.
The 80 middle and high school students used shovels, wheelbarrows, trowels and paint brushes to transform a once-vacant ranch home in Lincolnton into the headquarters of the Lincoln County Coalition Against Child Abuse.
The effort was part of the school's semiannual "Hands, Heart and Feet Day," where students head out to help the community.
The coalition has long needed a child-friendly home for law enforcement officers to interview child victims of sexual abuse and neglect, for medical workers to treat the children and for an advocate to help them through the courts, coalition executive director Sherry Reinhardt said.
In 2010, the Lincoln County Department of Social Services reported 2,054 cases of child abuse and neglect, Reinhardt said.
Until now, the coalition has operated in a 35-year-old singlewide mobile home in Lincolnton. The roof is in such disrepair that only a blue tarp keeps the rain out.
Providing a far better setting is the 4,000-square-foot, 17-room home the Lake Norman Christian students worked on last week, Reinhardt said.
Lincoln County is leasing the county-owned home to the coalition for $1 a year for 25 years, but it's taken a community to get the home in proper shape, she said.
Over two weekends in March, 140 volunteers from Lowe's national headquarters in Mooresville painted the interior of the home on Policarp Street, laid sod, installed fencing and made other improvements. Lowe's also gave $3,500 of in-store credit, which went for lighting fixtures for the home.
Mooresville landscape designer Jan Enright, Spivey Construction Co. Inc. of Mooresville and numerous others have donated their services. The Timken Foundation awarded a $100,000 grant, representing half the total amount needed to rehab the house.
Then came the 80 Lake Norman Christian students on Wednesday. They'd first raised $600 through collection jars at school, and the school administration donated another $1,400 in cash.
The students brought a truckload of stuffed teddy bears, which will be given to child abuse victims who are interviewed at the home after it opens in May.
Lake Norman Christian parent Tracie Johnson-Sawyers of Iron Station divided the tasks among the students.
Fletcher Graham and Spencer Gazzaway, both 13, of Huntersville and Micah Godsey, 13, of Cornelius shoveled red clay from a huge mound into wheelbarrows, while Madison Day, 14, and Elizabeth Jackson, 13, of Huntersville applied sealant to fencing.
Marissa Plummer, 14, of Concord; Olivia Gandy, 14, of Huntersville; Caroline Turner, 13, of Charlotte; and Lauren Hunter, 14, of Huntersville painted trim work inside the home.
"We're here because God called us here today," said Rose Edmondson, 12, of Davidson. "We're here to help make it feel like a home to these kids."
"It's for a good cause," Tracie Johnson-Sawyers' son, Ethan, 13, a seventh-grader at the school, said as he took a break from shoveling dirt.
"The kids getting abused are our peers. If I'd been abused, I'd want people to do this for me."