From the moment I learned of the Derek Sheckman Leadership Award two years ago, and the values it represents, I knew that this honor was something I would strive to achieve. After reading “Derek’s Journal” in my junior year health class at Swampscott High School, this motivation within me only grew stronger. I have always been enthusiastic about giving back to my community, and I realized that this award could help me further my community service experience, as well as do so much more.
In 1996, 16-year-old Derek Sheckman was one of two recipients of the North Shore Jewish community’s first Teen Leadership Award. In 1998, after Derek’s untimely death, the Jewish Federation of the North Shore decided to honor his memory by changing the name of the award to the Derek M. Sheckman Teen Leadership Award; today, North Shore Teen Initiative oversees the Award.
After being named one of the three recipients for the 2016 award, I decided I would work with Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit organization that builds homes all over the globe on their Lynn, Massachusetts, site. The months leading up to the physical work were surprisingly almost more difficult than the actual hands-on work. I found that being a teenager, it was difficult to communicate with adults in a way where I was taken seriously, or seen as an equal rather than a child. Constant back-and-forth emails, phone calls, and research made me realize how persistent one must be to form concepts into reality. Nevertheless, I managed to recruit volunteers and over five consecutive Saturdays in the fall, I devoted my time and energy with my peers to work.
This project was a huge challenge, both mentally and physically. Working around skilled grown men and learning how to use power tools was intimidating at first, and heavy lifting all day left me very sore. However, as the weeks went by, both my strength and knowledge of the site expanded greatly. The skills that I acquired came from experience and hands-on learning only; it was unlike anything I’ve ever done, but has provided me with a lot of new abilities that I wouldn’t have learned if not for this project.
When I first began on site, the crew had laid the cement and had built the first floor of the house. We began by lifting the framework of the second floor, giving the house a whole new look. As the days progressed, so did the house. By the end of my five weeks, the one-story “box” that I had first seen on October 8 had evolved greatly; there were now stairs, a porch, four walls on the second floor, and a roof. It was amazing to experience the building of this house because it blew my mind how much people can accomplish together, with only their hands and other basic tools, in such a short month.
While this project originally began to honor my award, I gained a lot of insight by working with Habitat. For one, the camaraderie that developed from working on a tough, physical task was moving – we created a team of skilled and semi-skilled volunteers, ranging from young teenagers to older adults; the teamwork involved in building this house made my experience all the better. Second, I felt that this project strengthened my leadership abilities because of my work on organizing and recruiting volunteers, as well as helping to lead groups on the construction site. Finally, it is incredible knowing that I, a high school student, helped build a home that a family will live in. I had the opportunity to meet the family that was chosen for this house in Lynn, and it reinforced how important it is to help those in need. While traveling to third-world countries to help is a wonderful experience, helping at home is just as rewarding. I am so grateful for this opportunity, and know that this honor has changed my life, and my perspective, for the better.
Ariella Nardizzi is a member of Swampscott High School Class of 2017.