Sure signs of spring in Gulf County: sunshine, warm weather and student volunteers from Auburn University helping around the community.
Now in its seventh year, the joint effort by the Christian Community Development Fund and college students from First Baptist Church in Opelika, Alabama aims to complete community improvement projects in Port St. Joe, Apalachicola and Mexico Beach.
Students spend their spring breaks helping with projects that include painting, gardening, construction and inside cleaning.
“The students allow a lot of projects to get done in a short period of time,” said Diana Burkett, executive director of the CCDF.
More than 300 students made the trek to the Forgotten Coast, 200 of which are stationed across North Port St. Joe, St. Joe Beach, Highland View, Oak Grove and in town.
Materials are purchased by homeowners who need work completed or purchased by CCDF through grants, donations and church partnerships.
Over their four days students are assigned to a large job, where they work for the duration of their visit or a small job that requires them to bounce from project to project. Some also work with street ministry projects.
Even with all the manual labor, the students wrap up their days by 3:30 p.m. and have plenty of time to enjoy the beaches.
“The students have such a loyalty and dedication to do this,” said Burkett. “They develop a bond with the community and stay in touch throughout the year.”
While the CCDF budgets to improve around 65 houses each year, the assistance of the students allows the group to work on closer to 85. In the last three years alone, the Auburn students have made significant restorations and repairs to more than 50 houses in North Port St. Joe.
In addition to helping the community, the economic effects can’t be ignored.
The students stay in rentals on Cape San Blas and spend five days purchasing food and gas. According to Burkett, last year the students spent more than $34,000 locally over the course of one week.
“They’re not only giving their time, but there’s revenue coming in here,” said Burkett. “It’s a win-win for the city, the community and the students.”