Volunteers give colorful school a makeover

The remodeling effort in Providence, R.I., was one of 17 simultaneous projects spearheaded by the state chapter of Rebuilding Together.

Talk about eclectic. At School One, an alternative private high school in Providence, R.I., that encourages students to take self-expression to the limit, the students are colorful – and so are the rooms.

Some spaces are pristine, thanks to enterprising teachers who refurbished their workspace in their own time. Others display the scars of years of abuse, with broken furniture and shabby walls. "Last time we remodeled," recalls Samson Kartaoui, a junior, "I brought a couch in from the trash."

So on a recent spring weekend, when dozens of volunteers showed up to give the school a badly needed makeover, the halls of School One were buzzing with excitement.

Volunteers gathered around their captain, John Colarusso, who imparted inspiration as well as instructions. They cleaned out clutter, repaired and painted walls, and built some furniture. The effort was one of 17 simultaneous rebuilding jobs across the state coordinated by the Rhode Island chapter of Rebuilding Together, a national organization that rehabilitates homes for low-income homeowners and nonprofit institutions.

The dynamo behind the Rhode Island chapter is Executive Director Jane Upper, who spends months finding sites to improve, donors to fund projects, and sponsoring institutions to provide volunteers. For this latest weekend effort, Ms. Upper raised $140,000, not counting donated materials.

Very often a single company or organization will take on a project. The sponsor for the School One project was Brown University, which was seeking to connect its staff and students to the greater community of Providence. Beyond that, the Brown team hoped to break down stereotypes among the university administrators, employees, and students who would be working together. "When we are all doing something collectively and have a common goal, it gives us a great understanding of what we are all about," says Mr. Colarusso who works in facilities management at Brown.

School One had skimped on remodeling so it could boost financial aid and be more inclusive, says Jennifer Borman, who heads the school. "We have focused on our spirit, but we decided that we want our environment to be a bit more comfortable."

Thanks to the efforts of many, Ms. Borman got her wish. "I hadn't anticipated how moving the day would feel," she said.

As for the volunteers, their paint-spattered faces wore the signs of a hard day's work and the satisfaction of a mission accomplished.

On Saturday, May 17, hundreds of Rebuilding Together volunteers will be working on new projects in Rhode Island.

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